The Edible Bracket 2011

Last year's winners of the MNCAAPG Best Bracket contest are back. This March Madness season, we will be documenting foods associated with the competing schools. Consider it March Madness, Top Chef Edition.

University of Illinois Fighting Illini (Urbana-Champaign, IL): Caramel Popcorn Clusters

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Did you know that popcorn is the Official State Snackfood of Illinois?  Neither did we.  But there it is, in the Illinois State Code.  (FYI, Illinois also has a state soil—drummer silty clay loam—for those keeping track at home.) 

State snackfood.  Popcorn is designated the official State snackfood of the State of Illinois.

5 I.L.C.S. 460/80.

Caramel Popcorn Clusters

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/3 cup popcorn kernels

1/2 stick unsalted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar (packed)

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup salted peanuts

1. Heat oil in heavy saucepan.  Add a few kernels to the oil and cover.  When the kernels pop, add the rest of the kernels, and cover pot, leaving a small vent for steam.  Shake pan frequently, until kernels pop only every 2-3 seconds.  Remove popcorn from heat.  Transfer popcorn to a bowl.

2. Melt butter in heavy saucepan over moderate heat.  Add brown sugar and corn syrup and bring to boil while stirring.  Stop stirring and let boil for about 6-7 minutes.  (The original recipe advises waiting until a candy thermometer reads 300.  We don’t have a candy thermometer, but this recipe worked out fine.)

3. Remove pan from heat and stir in salt and baking soda, then peanuts and popcorn to the sugar mixture.

4. When popcorn is coated, spread popcorn into a baking pan lined with well-oiled aluminum foil.

5. When popcorn has cooled, break up into small pieces.

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