Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chewy Caramel Popcorn and Pretzel Bars...

Sweet and salty fans unite! This week's Wedneday Treat Day was made just for you (and me!). I've had these Chewy Caramel Popcorn and Pretzel Bars temping me every time I went sifting through recipes looking for the next treat we were going to make and finally gave in to their siren call.

You'll need several cups of popcorn to make these - I had some loose kernels in the pantry, so I used the old-fashioned method of making it on the stove in a heavy pot. It took roughly 1/2 cup of the golden kernels to make the twelve cups called for - you could also use microwave popcorn if you like, popping two bags and measuring out the amount needed from both. For a firmer salty crunch, a scant half pound of small pretzels, busted into irregular shapes, are tossed in with the popped corn, along with one additional ingredient that wasn't in the recipe.

You could definitely stop here and end up with a smashing success, but we couldn't do that - Jeff made the suggestion to throw in one of my favorites candies - Reese's Pieces! Why? Well, both of us love peanut butter with pretzels, either as a dipper or stuffed inside those little hard nuggets - how could they not be wonderful here too? Besides, the nutty buttons would also add a splash of color... I was definitely game for that idea! I used a heavy handful, roughly around 1 cup.

Sprinkling the candies directly on top once the mixture is in the pan would work, but placing them with the popcorn in the beginning gives an advantage - some of them will burst open from the heat of the caramel, exploding their now liquid-y peanut butter centers as you combine the ingredients together. The rest remain intact and will return to their crisp texture when the bars cool.

To package all those ingredients together into a solid bar, an intriguing version of caramel is made. Caramel may seem scary to make, but this "wet" version (as opposed to dry, where you wouldn't be adding water and can be more temperamental) doesn't have to be - all it takes is heating sugar with salt and splash of water, then allowing the syrup that forms to boil until it turns a golden amber color. You won't be stirring at all while this is happening, but if you notice the color is not happening evenly over the bottom of your pan, a gentle swirl or three helps to even the syrup out.

At that point, a gradual stream of cream is added to stop the cooking process (be careful when you do this - the cream will cause the hot sugar to sputter a bit), followed by what I thought was one of the more interesting parts... a couple cups of miniature marshmallows! That last add-in was a first for me in caramel, but I could see where the recipe was going - the mallow will help keep the caramel more creamy and soft, while giving it strength to firm up as it cools.

Before we get any farther, I do have a quick note about the caramel - as stated, the caramel at the amber stage will have a sweet, toffee-like flavor that we thought matched well with the ingredients - strong enough to notice, but not too potent that you can't taste anything else. However, if you prefer a richer depth to your caramel, take the color a bit darker before you add the cream and marshmallow.

The original yield was 12 large bars, but Jeff and I thought these would be a bit too rich at that size and decided to pare them down to 16 instead. If you have an insane sweet and salty tooth (which, by the way, is accentuated with an optional sprinkling of salt at the end - I did this and will do it next time), then by all means, keep them in chunky, hunky monster squares and revel in their goodness! On the flip side, I could also easily see slicing the popcorn slab into 18 pieces, for a two or three bite treat. As you can see, the caramel sets enough to slice the bars well, but at the same time it is soft enough, giving this luscious, gooey quality to them that guilts you into licking the tacky caramel from your fingers after every bite.


  1. These look amazing! How far in advance did you make them before eating? I need to bring treats to work this weekend, but I'm worried about the popcorn getting mushy....

  2. These look amazing! Your Gingerbread Popcorn was a huge hit so I'm thinking this needs to be next on my to-do list.

  3. These look so decadent and creative. I wonder if they ship well? I bake care packages for soldiers stationed overseas and am always on the lookout for unique tasty treats that travel well.

  4. These are definitely something I would love! I just posted about a cookie with pretzel, chocolate and dried fruit, I can't resist the salty/sweet combo.

  5. That is a nice, unique treat. Looks really yummy.


  7. NinjaMom - The first taste was probably 4 or 5 hours after being made. I tried them the next day and they were the same - not mushy at all. You could probably keep them at room temperature for a couple days.

    Katrina - Thanks!

    Michelle - I can't compare the two, but both are excellent!

    Kelly - Perhaps if you wrapped them well, but I don't think they are sturdy enough (or would stay fresh enough) for that long of a trip.

    Brilynn - I'll have to check that out!

    Helene - Thanks!

    Anon - They are soft, but the pretzels do add a nice crunch. If you are asking about the caramel - it stays very soft (it doesn't set like a hard candy).

  8. this looks seriously great! thanks for sharing, lots of love happening for this and all your posts :)
    @ http://clutzycooking.blogspot.com

  9. Meaghan - Thank you! Lots of repeat requests for these.