Caramel Popcorn

Caramel Popcorn
Wotchers!

Today, my lovelies, after exhaustive testing, resulting in several sacks of delicious popcorn, I have for you the ultimate guide to making your own caramel popcorn.

Back in my day, of course, we called it toffee popcorn, bought it in a shop/cinema and it was made by ButterkistButterkist(rah-rah-rah!).

Well Butterkist are still going strong, and you can still buy their popcorn, but it is more delicious, customisable and cheaper to make it yourself.

This post is, in fact, the first in a two-part popcorn posting, where I plan on covering the basic method and the range of different-yet-equally-delicious tastes you can achieve just with sugar, butter and syrup, to be followed by Part II in which we look at how to customise your popcorn batches even further, with an eye on the upcoming C-word gifting season.

This popcorn is fantastically crunchy, yet dry to the touch, without a hint of stickiness. It is amazing when freshly made, and lasts up to three weeks if kept in an airtight container. It is an easy treat to make at home, yet different enough to give as gifts, especially if you can tailor the flavours to the giftee’s preferences.

So let’s talk ingredients!

Popcorn

Very straightforward to make, just put a little oil into a lidded pan, add in your popping corn kernels, cover and shake gently over medium heat until the sounds of popping stops.

Oil isn’t compulsory. You can absolutely make popcorn by applying heat alone, either in a pan or in the microwave (in a plain paper bag, twisted over at the top) HOWEVER, the oil helps any flavourings, such as salt, stick. Without oil, the salt (or other flavourings) just freefall through the popcorn and gather in the bottom of the bowl. If you want to reduce the fact content of your caramel popcorn, omitting the oil when popping your corn might be an option you choose.

How much to pop?
The recipe I am giving below is quite generous, and could easily be halved, but for the difficulties that would present in accurately measuring the temperature when boiling the sugar mixture. So rather than making life more complicated that way, it is much easier to adjust the quantity of corn you pop, to give a lighter or more dense covering: popping more corn will make for a lighter covering, popping less will lead to a more comprehensive, thicker coating.

The recipe below strikes a balance by calling for 100g of kernels to be popped. Vary this by choosing a quantity between the extremes given below:

  • Reduce to 75g for complete coverage.
  • Increase to up to 200g for progressively lighter coverage, although anything above 150g gets tricky to coat evenly.

Caramel

After trialling numerous combinations, I have settled on the following recipe as the ultimate caramel recipe, not particularly because it is the best (although it is!), but because of how easily it is adapted and customised. For a start, the caramel is a butterscotch, made by mixing sugar and butter and heating it to the ‘hard crack’ temperature of 150°C. Due to the trickiness of working with boiling sugar, adding some of the sugar in liquid form helps keep it from graining and crystallisation.

Butter: Use it. Unless you’re vegan, in which case, coconut oil can be substituted, with the resulting flavour being thusly affected.

Sugar: Here is where the fun begins, because of all the different types and combinations that can be used. The ones I have tried with this recipe include

  • white granulated
  • white caster
  • Demerara
  • Light brown soft/light muscovado
  • Dark brown soft/dark muscovado

The white sugars are fine for a perfectly acceptable, if slightly one-note caramel, but it is in the rich, dark notes of the brown sugars that your caramel can find real depth of flavour. In the picture at the top of this post, the popcorn on the left was made using demerara sugar, the one on the right a 50:50 mixture of dark and light muscovado sugar.

Other options you may like to try, but which I have not (yet!):

  • Coconut sugar
  • jaggery
  • maple sugar
Treacle Popcorn

Treacle popcorn showing light coverage using the base recipe over 150g popcorn kernels

Syrup

Here again is the opportunity to add flavour to your caramel. The syrups I have tried include:

  • golden syrup
  • Dutch schenkstroop
  • treacle
  • maple syrup

If you want the flavours of the sugars to shine, you could go with bland glucose syrup, which would add sweetness and help prevent crystallisation, and no additional flavours. Golden syrup has a rich but mild flavour, very complementary to the brown sugars. The Dutch schenkstroop adds deeper caramel notes, without the bitterness of treacle, and treacle is the ultimate dark, rich-tasting syrup.

Alternatives you might want to experiment with:

  • glucose
  • agave nectar
  • rice syrup
  • date syrup
  • molasses
  • pomegranate molasses

WARNING: I have not tried these other syrups, but if my experiences with maple syrup are anything to go by, some of them might well act differently to regular sugar syrups. I went through countless (ooh, that’s a lie, because I counted every one and it was seven. SEVEN FAILED BATCHES PEOPLE! *cries for the lost maple syrup*) batches before I got it right. See notes on using maple syrup below.

Salt

Even though salted caramel is very much ‘a thing’, even the most buttery butterscotch benefits from adding a little salt, which gives relief from an unremitting sweetness onslaught.

Caramel Popcorn

There are three stages to caramel popcorn: making the popcorn, coating the popcorn and baking the popcorn. This last ensures the caramel sets to a crisp, crackling coating.

The popcorn

100g popcorn kernels
2-3tbs vegetable oil

  • Pour the oil into a large, lidded saucepan and set it on medium high heat.
  • When the oil is shimmering, add the popcorn kernels and cover with a lid.
  • Shake gently back and forth to keep the kernels moving about, and remove from the heat when the sounds of popping ceases.
  • Tip the popped corn into a large bowl and set aside.

The coating

100g unsalted butter
200g/1 cup sugar – all one type or a mixture
125ml/½ cup golden syrup/schenkstroop/treacle – see below for maple syrup
½ tsp salt

½tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp vanilla extract, or other flavouring (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 110°C, 90°C Fan.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment or preferably a silpat mat.
  • Have your bicarbonate of soda and flavourings measured out and have a large spatula and a large balloon whisk close to hand.
  • Put the first four ingredients in a large pan. I use my preserving pan.
  • Heat on medium heat, stirring, until the butter and sugars have melted together.
  • Stop stirring and allow the mixture to reach Hard Crack on a sugar thermometer, roughly 150°C.
  • The next stage needs to be done quickly.
  • Remove from the heat and add the flavourings and the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Stir briskly with the balloon whisk until the mixture begins to froth, then tip in the popped corn.
  • Using the spatula, turn the popcorn in the hot caramel until evenly coated, by scooping the caramel from underneath and turning it over the top of the corn. The fizzing bicarbonate of soda will make this easier, but the effect won’t last forever, so work briskly, but be careful as boiling sugar is LAVA!
  • Tip the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer. Don’t worry if the popcorn is looking a bit patchy, the baking stage will help even this out.

The Baking

  • Bake the sheet of popcorn for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. The caramel will remain quite liquid for the first 20 minutes, so keep stirring to even out the coverage.
  • Remove from the oven and, while still warm, break up any large pieces.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheet, then pack into an airtight container when cold – a large ziplock bag is ideal. Be sure to exclude as much air as possible before sealing.

Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn

Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn

Whilst the ingredients for Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn are the same as the recipe above (using 125ml/½ a cup of pure maple syrup as the liquid sugar), the method isn’t suitable. The temperature of 150°C is much too high for the delicately flavoured syrup, and results in a grained and crystallised caramel. Using half maple syrup and half golden syrup was kinda OK< but really quite a thick, heavy coating. My daughter still loved the ‘failed’ batches (just as well, considering how many there were), but I was determined to get a glossy and crisp caramel and as the picture above shows, success! (Eventually).

This method is actually easier than the above, with all it’s faffing around with thermometers and the like. It’s also much quicker. Initially, proceed as for the above recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 110°C, 90°C Fan.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment or preferably a silpat mat.
  • Have your bicarbonate of soda measured out and have a large spatula and a large balloon whisk close to hand.
  • Put the butter, sugar (I recommend light muscovado), maple syrup and salt in a large pan. I use my preserving pan.
  • Heat on medium heat, stirring, until the butter and sugars have melted together.
  • Then:
  • Stop stirring and when the mixture begins to boil, allow it to boil for just three minutes.
  • Now:
  • Proceed as above, i.e.
  • Remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Stir briskly with the balloon whisk until the mixture begins to froth, then tip in the popped corn.
  • Using the spatula, turn the popcorn in the hot caramel until evenly coated, by scooping the caramel from underneath and turning it over the top of the corn. The fizzing bicarbonate of soda will make this easier, but the effect won’t last forever, so work briskly, but be careful as boiling sugar is LAVA!
  • Tip the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer.
  • Bake the sheet of popcorn for just 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. Any longer and the caramel will begin to crystallise. The short baking just sets the caramel to a delicious crispness.
  • Remove from the oven and, while still warm, break up any large pieces.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheet, then pack into an airtight container when cold – a large ziplock bag is ideal. Be sure to exclude as much air as possible before sealing.
  • Enjoy.

Tune in next time for Part II, where we get all fancy-schmantzy with our popcorn flavours!


Sea Foam Fudge

Sea Foam

Wotchers!

This is another fantastic textured fudge recipe, but in a whole different way to the Condensed Milk Fudge.

It is made with whisked egg-whites and a hot sugar syrup, beaten to grain the sugar. The result is a dazzlingly white, almost marshmallow appearance. The magic, however, happens when you take a bite. Just like it’s namesake, Sea Foam Fudge melts away like a whisper.

It is positively ethereal. Which is why it needs a jolly great handful of cranberries, apricots and a few chopped nuts for zing and colour and a bit of texture. Some Yuletide flotsam, to be carried into your mouth on a cushion of sea foam, if you will. Or not. I tend to get a bit carried away with my extended metaphors.

ANYHOO….

In the US I believe this is called Divinity and lacks the fruit,  but also veers dangerously (for my not-very-sweet-tooth) towards the soft and nougat-y.

As with meringues, this will absorb moisture if left uncovered, so pack into a ziplock bag for personal indulgence, or shiny, crackly cellophane if gifting as presents.

This comes from a delightful book in my collection – Sweet-Making For All by Helen Jerome, originally published in 1924. Just as with Ms Nell Heaton, I have great confidence in Ms Jerome’s recipes which are always clear and straightforward. If you come across any of their books, I can highly recommend them.

Sea Foam

450g white granulated sugar
60g golden syrup or glucose[1]
180ml water
2 large egg whites
50g chopped nuts – pistachios are colourful, almonds keep things pale
50g chopped dried apricots
50g chopped cranberries – dried or candied

1tsp vanilla extract or 1tbs rum

  • Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment.
  • Put the sugar, syrup and water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to a boil and continue to heat until the syrup reaches 130°C. Do not stir.
  • When the temperature of the syrup reaches 120°C, start whisking the egg-whites until stiff. The temperature of the sugar syrup will rise relatively quickly, so keep an eye on each. Or get a glamorous assistant to help.
  • Still whisking, pour the hot syrup slowly into the whisked egg-whites, as if making Italian meringue, and continue beating until the mixture begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Add the flavouring whilst whisking.
  • When the mixture has lost its high sheen and thickened slightly add the fruit and nuts and continue beating until the mixture has thickened further and becomes cloud-like. NB This might happen suddenly, so be prepared.
  • Smooth your Sea Foam into the tin. Alternatively, roll lightly into logs about 2cm in diameter Try not to squash out the air you’ve just whisked in as you do so. Wearing latex gloves or dusting your hands with cornflour, or both – will help.
  • Cover lightly and allow to cool completely. If you can enclose your tin in a large ziplock bag to protect from humidity, so much the better.
  • When cold, cut into squares and/or dip into tempered chocolate. Store in an airtight container.

 

[1] The glucose will keep the fudge dazzlingly white, the golden syrup will add a very pale golden hue.