Caramel Popcorn II

Mince Pie Popcorn

Welcome back to Part II of Caramel Popcorn, (Part I can be found here), in which we learn about zhuzhing our base caramel popcorn into glittering jewels for gifting and treats.

There are, as I see it, three ways to add even more flavours to your popcorn:

  • Bits and Bobs
  • Alcohol
  • Spices

Bits and Bobs
This catch-all term covers just about anything you can think of. Purely decorative options include: hard sugar sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, gold and silver balls, gold stars, coloured sugar. These can be added to the popcorn after baking, when the caramel is still slightly tacky, and left to cool. Larger additions can include dried fruit, candied peels, preserved ginger, etc which can be added during the baking process since, being more substantial, they require more stickiness to ensure they adhere well to the caramel. You could also drizzle over melted, tempered chocolate, once the caramel has cooled, but to be honest, that seems a little over the top to me, given the amount of sugar already in the caramel, but whatever jingles your bells.

Nothing too outrageous, just a little something right at the end of cooking the caramel to give it a little flavour boost. Two tablespoons is my recommendation: any less and it won’t be noticable, and any more and you risk your caramel not setting. Between the hot caramel and the oven baking, there won’t be any actual alcohol left by the time the popcorn is done, but the flavour will add a wonderful touch to your popcorn.

Whether you pick just a single spice, or go for a riotous mix of several, spices are a simple way to zhuzh up your popcorn batches. There are two opportunities to add spices: in the oil you pop the corn or afterwards as a dusting over the cooked corn. In experimenting for this post, I had also tried adding them to the caramel, just before the bicarbonate of soda, but found the extreme heat of the caramel just scorched the spices and thus reduced their flavour. The oil the popcorn is cooked in doesn’t get as hot, and the lower heat can actually encourage the spices to become more aromatic. For an even richer flavour, use clarified butter or ghee to pop your corn.

Before presenting any glammed-up recipe ideas, I want to pause for a moment and talk a little more about coverage. Previously, I spoke about varying the quantity of popcorn to get the coverage of your preference, from a light smattering to full-on candy clumps. Now, I like a light covering to my popcorn, as, usually, the heavily-coated popcorn is too sweet, but here I’m going to recommend a change. When trialling these recipes I found that they actually suit a heavier coverage because, and here’s the odd bit, it leads to one eating less. I mean, the whole batch still gets eaten – obvs! – but the additional ingredients provide a pop of such intense flavour, one or two pieces at a time is enough. Rather like a mint, or piece of fudge with a coffee at the end of a meal. In fact, why not serve your glammed up popcorn that way anyways!

And now – On to some recipe suggestions!

To avoid repetition and making this post a mile long, I’ll only be listing the additions to the base recipe/methods covered in the previous post.

Malt Caramel Popcorn

Malt Popcorn

This popcorn has a gloriously rich colour and flavour. Caveat: you need to like the flavour of malt extract (obvs), otherwise this isn’t the popcorn for you. I described it to my daughter as tasting like strong Maltesers. She tried it, but wasn’t a fan. I, on the other hand, love it. It’s not overly sweet, which is a big plus, and the caramel sets to a wonderful crispness.

Use the Maple Syrup method, using 200g of soft brown sugar and 125g/ml of malt extract for the liquid sugar.  Bake for 20 minutes, stirring it after 10.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

A wonderfully aromatic sweet/salty mix that is sure to appeal to everyone. Bonus: only requires two extra ingredients!

Maple syrup

A word or two about the bacon. And those two words are ‘dry cure’.

Dry cure is a method of bacon production that does not involve liquid. Spices, salts and sugars are rubbed over the meat for several days until the meat is cured. Liquid is drawn out of the meat, leaving it compact and firm. Wet brined bacon absorbs moisture as well as the curing salts. The difference is obvious when you cook it – wet brined bacon frequently oozes moisture and milky solids in the pan, whereas dry cure bacon merely becomes crisp in it’s own rendered fat.

You can choose between streaky or back bacon, smoked or unsmoked. I chose 200g of smoked, dry cured, streaky bacon, initially intending to use just some for the popcorn, but I ended up using it all on a single batch.

Clutch the pearls! gif

Yes, I too was surprised. But anything less and there was too little bacon to make any impression. You need to cook/glaze your bacon first, before popping the corn or making the caramel.

  • Cook your bacon in a dry pan (if using streaky bacon) or by adding a little oil if using leaner back bacon, until just cooked and starting to brown a little. The later grilling will crisp it up, so you want it to be just barely cooked at this stage. Overcook it now and by the time it is grilled, it will be brittle and tasteless.
  • Remove from the pan and blot with kitchen paper.
  • Lay the cooked bacon on a parchment-lined pan and drizzle with the maple syrup.
  • Grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn over and grill for a further 2 minutes to caramelise the sugars.
  • Taste, and if the sweet/salt combination isn’t balanced, sprinkle a little salt onto the still-warm bacon.
  • Set aside to cool, then snip into small pieces with a pair of scissors.

Adding the bacon
There are two options – before or after the caramel. I have tried both and, whilst neither is ideal, my recommendation is to add the bacon to the hot popcorn as soon as it is popped. The stickiness of the maple syrup helps it adhere, and if it is a little clumpy (and it probably will be) the motion of mixing/coating the popcorn with the caramel will help even the distribution.

Parkin Popcorn

This flavour combination is based on a luxury parkin recipe I found in an otherwise unremarkable household compendium from 1870. In addition to treacle and ginger, the recipe also boasted lashings of rum, which cemented it’s place in my heart.

Use the regular caramel popcorn ingredients/method with the following adjustments:

  • Solid sugar: Either 200g soft brown, or 100g each of light & dark muscovado.
  • Liquid sugar: 125ml treacle – heat the opened tin gently in a saucepan of water to make it more manageable to pour.
  • Oil for popping: Oil is fine, but clarified butter is also a luxurious alternative
  • New Ingredients
    • ground ginger: Add 1 rounded teaspoon to the oil/butter used for popping the corn to ensure even coverage of kernels
    • dark rum: Add 2tbs into the caramel just before adding the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Optional Extra
    • preserved stem ginger: I just thought of this recently, but didn’t want to delay this post further by waiting for a sunny day to take more photos. Drain from the syrup and chop finely. Sprinkle over the popped corn while hot. I suggest 80-100g, or to your personal taste.

Mince Pie Popcorn

Mince Pie Popcorn

I must admit, this version is my favourite of the glammed-up recipes, because it’s literally bursting with flavour. Not surprisingly, given the number of extra ingredients thrown in, but this guarantees that each piece is a fantastic mix of Christmassy flavours and the perfect gluten-free alternative to pastry pies. If your fruit is too clumped together, tease it apart before the baking stage.

Use the regular caramel popcorn ingredients/method with the following adjustments:

  • Solid sugar: Either 200g soft brown, or 100g each of light & dark muscovado. This will depend on the liquid sugar combo you choose. I used treacle/soft brown.
  • Liquid sugar: 125ml treacle or for a less intense flavour without losing the rich colour, try 60ml each of golden syrup and treacle. As above, heat the opened tin gently in a saucepan of water to make it more manageable to pour.
  • Oil for popping: clarified butter
  • New Ingredients
    • Mince pie spices. Add to the butter used for popping the corn to ensure even coverage of kernels
      • ½tsp ground ginger
      • 1tsp ground nutmeg
      • 1tsp ground cinnamon
      • 1tsp of ground mixed spice
      • ½tsp ground cloves
    • Alcohol – 1tbs each of cream sherry & brandy. Add into the caramel just before adding the bicarbonate of soda.
    • Candied peel: 75g each of candied orange and lemon peel, cut into small (5mm) dice. Toss through the popcorn before coating the caramel.
    • Cranberries: 80g cranberries, cut into halves. Toss through the popcorn before coating the caramel.

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