Chinese Cracker Jacks

Chinese Cracker Jacks

These Cracker Jacks are very similar to the real thing, only super fresh and appealing–as only homemade can be. And as I never feel there are enough peanuts in the boxed version, there are three full cups of mixed nuts here. The Chinese Five-Spice gives this old-fashioned treat a sophisticated new life. We can’t seem to get enough of this appealing treat. Luckily, it is very easy to make.

NOTE You may be tempted to use prepared Chinese Five-Spice. Don’t! It takes only a minute to make your own, and the superlative aroma and flavor are essential here.

INGREDIENT NOTE Every time I make this (all too often recently), I find myself debating whether the molasses is necessary or desired. On the one hand, I love it. On the other hand, I feel it competes ever so slightly with the Chinese Five-Spice for the starring role. MauiJim says the two are in perfect balance, but you might want to try it with and without to determine your own preference.

Popcorn & Nuts
½ cup popcorn kernels (8 cups popped corn)
1 cup whole hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skinned
1 cup whole roasted peanuts, unsalted or lightly salted (Trader Joe’s peanuts are awesome)
1 cup whole pecans

Spices
1 tablespoon LunaCafe Chinese Five-Spice (recipe below)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Caramel Syrup
½ cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses, optional
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking soda
1.Prepare LunaCafe Chinese Five-Spice. Reserve.
2.Coat two edged baking sheets with vegetable oil spray. Reserve.
3.Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat oven to 300°F.
4.Pop the popcorn according to your usual method or your popcorn machine’s guidelines.
5.Remove to a very large mixing bowl. Add hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, LunaCafe’s Chinese Five-Spice, and salt. Toss to combine and distribute the spices. Reserve.
6.In a large saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and molasses. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture should measure 250° on a candy thermometer.
7.Turn off heat and stir in vanilla and then baking soda. The mixture will foam up dramatically.
8.As the foam subsides, quickly pour the caramel syrup over the popcorn and nuts. Use long cooking chopsticks to distribute the syrup. (The minimal surface area of the chopsticks prevents the caramel from getting a good hold.)
9.Divide the crackerjack mixture evenly between the cookie sheets.
10.Bake for 45 minutes, stirring cracker jacks every 15 minutes with long cooking chopsticks. Allow to cool and then break up the pieces if desired.
11.Store in an airtight container in cool, dry location.

Makes about 12 cups.

LunaCafe Chinese Five-Spice

The aroma of these spices when they are toasting is remarkable. For most evocative aroma and flavor, always use fresh spices.

3 whole star anise pieces, broken
20 whole cloves
3-inch Mexican cinnamon stick (canella), broken
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon whole Sichuan pepper or black peppercorns
1.In nonstick skillet set over medium heat, toast the spices just until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2.Immediately remove from the heat and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.
3.When cool, store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry location.

Makes about ¼ cup.

Additional Inspiration
?Bookcooker: Scotch-Caramel Cracker Jacks
?Savory Sweet Life: (My Favorite Fair Food) Kettle Corn
?Savory Sweet Life: Oh Cracker Jacks! Recipe for Caramel Popcorn
?The Kitchn: Homemade Cracker Jack
?The Seattle Times: Chinese Crackerjacks
?Yum Sugar: Homemade Cracker Jacks

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Copy­right 2012 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.

Filed Under: All Season, Asia, Holiday, Snacks | Treats Tagged With: Asia, Asian Five Spice, caramel syrup, Chinese, cracker jacks, crackerjacks, dessert, popcorn, snack, treat

December 31, 2012 By Susan S. Bradley Leave a Comment (Edit)

About Susan S. Bradley

Professional cook, food writer, culinary instructor, author of Pacific Northwest Palate: Four Seasons of Great Cooking, and previous owner of the Northwest Culinary Academy.

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These Cracker Jacks are very similar to the real thing, only super fresh and appealing–as only homemade can be. And as I never feel there are enough peanuts in the boxed version, there are three full cups of mixed nuts here. The Chinese Five-Spice gives this old-fashioned treat a sophisticated new life. We can’t seem to get enough of these. Luckily, they are very easy to make.

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