The connection between Christmas and popcorn is tenuous at best, and yet is deeply rooted in the traditions of so many families. Whether it appears in ball format or strings adorning the annual evergreen tree, there is no escaping, nor explaining, those exploded edible kernels around the holiday season. Even as an outsider, I can’t help but associate this otherwise innocuous snack food with the frenzy of festive treats, weaving them into various gifts more often than not. Not even the all-knowing Google can provide a satisfying explanation to the centuries-old affiliation, and yet it remains, as relevant and convincing as ever.
And so come December, the popcorn comes out in force once again. This year, I opted to skip all the fussy individual balls, pressing the whole sticky mixture into one square baking dish instead. Easily yielding neat rectangular bars, they now fit seamlessly onto a cookie platter, amongst other sweet options or featured by themselves. Taking one more short cut by employing popcorn cereal rather than freshly popped maize may seem like a poor choice, but the corny essence still shines through loud and clear. Without the sharp hulls, they pose fewer potential hazards for sticking in between teeth, and there’s no risk of including unpopped kernels. An emergency trip to the dentist is not my idea of a Merry Christmas.
Perfectly festive red and green mix-ins add the excitement here, but if cranberries and pistachios are not your favorites, don’t be afraid to stray into more diverse ingredient pools. Dried cherries, strawberries, or raspberries would be alternatives that still keep the color theme, and of course the options are endless for other hues.
Christmas Popcorn Bars
6 Cups Puffed Corn Cereal
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
3/4 Cup Shelled, Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted
1/2 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pour the cereal, cranberries, pistachios, and half of the white chocolate chips into a very large bowl and set it aside, but keep it near the stove for easy access.
Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan. Set a saucepan over medium heat and add in the margarine or coconut oil, along with the corn syrup or agave, sugar, and salt stirring just to moisten all of the dry sweetener. From this point on, resist the temptation to stir the mixture, but swirl the pan gently instead to mix. This will prevent large sugar crystals from forming.
Allow the syrup to cook until it bubbles up vigorously and becomes frothy. Reduce the heat slightly so that it’s at a steady but low boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn off the stove
and stir in the vanilla. Pour the hot sugar mixture over your waiting cereal and mix-ins, carefully but quickly fold it in using a wide spatula. Transfer the sticky cereal into your prepared pan, and press gently using the spatula so that it evenly fills the space. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate chips over the top, pressing them in gently so they adhere.
Let cool completely before turning the whole sweet block out and slicing into bars.
Makes 12 – 16 Bars