Trail Snack – Caramel Corn Snack Mix (GF+DF)

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Caramel Corn Snack Mix!

It’s trail snack time!!!  I ran across this somewhat sweet snack mix a few months ago.  It was an instant hit with the family (so much so that I have to make a double batch just to see it into the next day!), and it’s great for taking on the road or on the trail, too.  In fact, a group member and I shared a container of it, lazing in our kayaks in the middle of Honeoye Creek a few weeks back…

Paddling up Honeoye Creek, Rochester, New York
Paddling up Honeoye Creek, New York

I love the mix of salty pretzels and sweet glaze (not too sweet – I hate super-sweet stuff, so I cut back on the sugar), plus I can tell myself it’s healthy because of the popcorn.  In reality, it’s just a tasty treat that’s super easy to make gluten-free or dairy-free as the need arises.  I’ll give you the recipe, then go step by step below.

Caramel Corn Snack Mix

Adapted from Allrecipes

8 c. popped popcorn

4 c. crispy rice (or corn or wheat) cereal squares

2 c. small pretzel twists (GF pretzels for gluten-free)

1 c. pecan halves or peanuts (or omit altogether)

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. butter or margarine (DF margarine for dairy-free)

¼ c. light corn syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp baking soda

Ingredients and some of the implements for making gluten free Caramel Corn Snack Mix
Ingredients and some of the implements (you’ll also need a large bowl, 1 c. measuring cup, a baking sheet, and parchment paper). Note that all of the ingredients came from Aldi except for the corn syrup, which is a seasonal item.

In a large bowl, combine popcorn, cereal, pretzels, and pecans or peanuts.  Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, butter or margarine, and corn syrup.  Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low; cook without stirring for 5 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda.  Pour over the popcorn mixture and toss until evenly coated.  Spread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (the parchment paper is a must unless you like washing baked-on sugar, at which point spraying the pan with non-stick cooking spray is good enough).

Bake at 300F for 15 minutes, stir, and cook for another 10-15 minutes (do not burn it!)  Break into chunks once cool; store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tutorial

Pop enough popcorn to make 8c.  I find I need about a third of a cup of unpopped corn to make the desired amount.  Be very, very careful to only use the fully-popped corn and not any of the hard, partially-popped or unpopped kernels.

Popping the popcorn for gluten-free Caramel Corn Snack Mix
Popping the popcorn

Pour the popped popcorn into a large bowl; add 4c. crispy rice cereal squares (y’know, Rice Chex) (or 4c. of whatever cereal you want), 2c. small pretzel twists (or mini rods), and 1c. pecan halves or peanuts.  Personally, I’m not much on the peanuts, but they’re great for protein on the trail.  Mix together with a large spoon.

The dry Caramel Corn Snack Mix
The dry snack mix

In a saucepan, combine ½ c. brown sugar (1c. if you want it sweeter), ½ c. butter or margarine, and ¼ c. light corn syrup.  Turn the heat to medium and cook and stir until the mixture boils.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow it to cook for 5 minutes.  Do not stir for the 5 minutes!  It will be fine without stirring, but keep an eye on it in case it boils up over the edges of the pan – turn down the heat if necessary.

The boiling mixture... doesn't look disgusting?  Caramel Corn Snack Mix, gluten free, dairy free
The boiling mixture… doesn’t look disgusting?

Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in 1 tsp of vanilla and ½ tsp of baking soda.

Pour the sugar mixture over the popcorn mixture, stirring to coat well.  It’s useful to have a helper here – they can pour while you stir or vice versa.

Pouring in the caramel mixture on the Caramel Corn Snack Mix, gluten free, dairy free
Pouring in the caramel mixture

Place parchment paper on a large cookie sheet.  The parchment paper is a necessity; I’ve done it with just cooking spray, and the poor person who washed the dishes was not happy with me one bit!  Spread the popcorn mixture on the parchment paper.

Pouring the caramel corn snack mix onto the tray
Pouring the snack mix onto the tray

Bake at 300F (150C) for 15 minutes.  Flip/stir, then return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.  Do not burn!  Believe me, burnt sugar does not taste good!

Caramel Corn Snack Mix, fresh out of the oven!
Finished snack mix, fresh out of the oven!

Remove the snack mix on the parchment paper to a flat surface to cool.  Break into pieces and place in a sealed container to store for your next trip!

If you have a favorite snack mix, please leave me a link to the recipe in the comments!

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