What we have here is more like Cracker Jack than regular caramel corn, which is the way we roll in the Pastry household. Leave the peanuts out of you prefer, but be sure to add an extra teaspoon of salt to compensate.
1 ounce (2 tablespoon) vegetable oil
3.75 ounces (1/2 cup) popcorn kernels
5 ounces (1cup) salted peanuts
7 ounces (1 cup) white sugar
7.5 ounces (1 cup) light brown sugar
5.5 ounces (1/2 cup) light corn syrup
4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
Preheat your oven to 120 degrees. Pour the oil into a large 4-quart sauce pan and set it over medium-high heat. Drop in three our four kernels of the popcorn and shake the pan a bit to coat them with oil. When one or two of the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn and cover the pan, leaving the lid slightly askew to allow steam to escape. Shake the pan back and forth over the burner until the kernels stop popping, about four minutes. Apply cooking spray to a large bowl (stainless steel is nice), pour in the corn, toss in the peanuts and put the bowl in the oven to keep it warm. Lay a large sheet of aluminum foil out on your counter and apply cooking spray to that as well.
Next, in a medium saucepan combine the sugars, butter, corn syrup and water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan or have an instant-read thermometer standing by. Place the mixture over medium heat and swirl gently until the butter melts. Boil without stirring until it reaches 300 degrees. Take the saucepan off the heat and gently stir in the salt and baking soda. It will foam up some, so be prepared.
Take the popcorn bowl out of the oven and pour the caramel over. Toss with two wooden spoons to coat, then lay it out on the greased foil. Using two forks, break the big clumps up into smaller pieces if you wish. Allow the mixture to cool, then store in an airtight container for a week.
Reader Roger adds:
One thing you failed to mention however is the secret to that wonderful movie theater pop corn with the lovely yellow hue and flavor. The secret is popping the corn in coconut oil. While the health nazis tend not to like coconut oil it really makes the difference in popcorn.
I also notice that your recipe doesn’t specify the type of peanuts. I suspect crackerjack traditionally uses Spanish peanuts that tend to be smaller and have tighter red skins than the Virginia peanuts. I think that’s what beer-nuts are also. I am unsure if that makes a big difference however.