Want a vegan recipe for copycat Fiddle Faddle, copycat Cracker Jacks, or copycat Screaming Yellow Zonkers (what a name) popcorn? This is it! Our recipe for oven-baked candy-coated popcorn is easy to make, and hard to resist. And our recipe is sooooo much cleaner than any of Screaming Yellow Zonkers, Cracker Jack, or Fiddle Faddle. That’s the lovely thing about making your own versions of beloved favorites, you not only know exactly what goes into it, but you can control what goes into it, and keep out the nasties.
For example, the ingredients for Screaming Yellow Zonkers (even if you could still get them) were corn syrup, sugar, popcorn, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, salt, nonfat milk, lecithin, mono- and di-glycerides, artificial flavor, artificial color, sodium benzoate, vitamin A palmitate, and “TBHQ” which stands for “to be honest it’s questionable”; not really, it actually stands for tertiary butylhydroquinone, which is worse. According to Healthline, “According to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a well-designed government study found that this additive increased the incidence of tumors in rats. And according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), cases of vision disturbances have been reported when humans consume TBHQ. This organization also cites studies that have found TBHQ to cause liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions, and paralysis in laboratory animals. Some believe BHA and TBHQ also affect human behavior. It’s this belief that has landed the ingredients on the “do not consume” list of the Feingold Diet, a dietary approach to managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Advocates of this diet say that those who struggle with their behavior should avoid TBHQ.”
The ingredients for Fiddle Faddle, which you can still get, are corn syrup, popcorn, sugar, brown sugar, peanuts, butter, salt, soybean oil, soy lecithin, that ever-concerning ‘natural flavor’, and baking soda.
And finally, Cracker Jack’s ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, popcorn, peanuts, molasses, salt, oil, and lecithin. It turns out that Cracker Jack is the only one that is possibly vegan (depending on the sugar source) and actually has the cleanest ingredients, at least as compared to its candied popcorn brethren.
In case you’re wondering about the etymology of the name “Cracker Jack”, we were too, and so we looked it up. It turns out, at least according to Wikipedia, that back in 1896, when it was first produced, “It was named by an enthusiastic sampler who remarked: “That’s a crackerjack!” (Crackerjack is a colloquialism meaning “of excellent quality”)” And now you know.
The primary difference between Cracker Jack, and Fiddle Faddle and SYZ, is that Cracker Jack is more of a caramel corn, whereas the other two are more “buttery candied popcorn”. Our recipe allows you to make it either way. Also, if you want to add peanuts, you can either ‘candy’ them with the popcorn (so that they too are candy-coated) or add them after you are done making the popcorn (so for example if you want the peanuts to be in contrast to the sweetness of the popcorn). With regard to the peanuts, it’s up to you whether you want them salted or plain (or not at all).
By the way, our recipe is based on a recipe for oven-baked caramel corn that we have been making in our home every Christmas for going on 40 years. It wouldn’t be Christmas in our home without it.
Vegan Copycat Fiddle Faddle Screaming Yellow Zonkers Cracker Jacks
5 quarts popped popcorn (in our hot air popper this turns out to be exactly two batches using 1/3 cup unpopped popcorn per batch)
1 cup (4 sticks) vegan butter
2 cups sugar (see below for what type of sugar)
1/2 cup brown rice syrup (ideal) or maple syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup peanuts (optional)
Which sugar should you use? If you are wanting a Fiddle Faddle or Screaming Yellow Zonkers experience, use all white or light sugar. If you want more of a Cracker Jack flavor use half white or light sugar, and half brown sugar. If you want a true caramel corn, use all brown sugar. In any case, check to be sure that your white sugar is vegan; some white sugar is processed through charred animal bones (known as ‘bone char’) to bleach it. If your sugar isn’t white, or if your white sugar is organic, than it’s unlikely to have been put through bone char. One brand that we really like is Wholesome Organic Sugar, all of their sugars are vegan, you can find their sugars at Whole Foods and elsewhere, and online on Amazon.
Preheat your oven to 250°.
Spread your freshly popped popcorn in a large roasting pan (ideally) or a large shallow sheet pan. Put it the oven to keep the popcorn warm and crisp. Combine the vegan butter, sugar, syrup, and salt in a heavy saucepan (at least 2 quarts in size). Place over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil until the mixture reaches firm ball stage (248 degrees on a candy thermometer). This will take about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a candy thermometer you can either test it the old-fashioned way (drip a tiny bit of the mixture into cold water, if it immediately forms a firm ball, it’s done), or you can just wing it by boiling it for a full 5 minutes (no more, no less).
Remove the mixture from heat, and stir in the baking soda. Mix in well. This will cause the mixture to become foamy (this is our favorite part of the process, it’s really cool).
Before adding the baking soda
A moment after stirring in the baking soda
Pour the mixture slowly over and into the popped corn, stirring well. Return the pan to the oven (still at 250 degrees) for 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool and serve. To store, store in an airtight container and set in a cool place.
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Copycat Fiddle Faddle SYZ Cracker Jack Popcorn
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