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. Or not. See below.
  • 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 no longer than 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes.
  • 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!


Sweet Rose Buns

Sweet Rose Buns

Wotchers!

There’s been a lot of traffic to the blog lately for Apple Rose Tarts – not sure whether it’s been the return to our screens of The Great British Bake Off or what, but it just goes to show that people like pretty things to bake.

So that got me thinking about how I could put a twist on the prettiness of the tarts but in another form and shamelessly cash in on their popularity.

I’m a big fan of buns – buns don’t get half as much press as they should, in my opinion: more robust than a cupcake, less sugary sweet and much more satisfying. However, they can all too easily tip over into heavy, claggy lumps of stodge, thick with stickiness – which becomes a logistical nightmare to try and eat.

Playing with food is always fun – partly, I’m convinced, because it is so frowned upon. Diving into Pullapart Loaves, Bubble Bread, Monkey Bread, Tear and Share, Cinnamon Buns or Chelsea Buns – to name but a few – and pulling out a handful of warm, pillowy dough is not only delicious fun, but carries that little frisson of excitement of doing something a little bit NORTY. Still not too pretty a sight, though.

Here, then, is my solution – buns with all the fun of a pullapart, but still delicate and pretty. Soft petals of sweet bun dough gently folded around each other, interleaved with a sprinkling of tangy, lemony sugar and butter.

If you’re prone to the Homer Simpson drools when it comes to fresh-baked carbohydrates, you can, of course, stuff them in your mouth whole. And with buns still warm from the oven this certainly would have strong ‘mitigating circumstances’.

Drooling Homer Simpson

Mmmmmm – buns

However, today we’re going for – or at least TRYING for – delicate, so picture yourself peeling off each delicious petal one by one and maybe dipping it into a little pot of creamy cream cheese lemon topping for a moment of decadent indulgence.

OK, before we start, there are a couple of Top Tips I’d like to bring up.

Top Tip 1: Using milk either wholly or in part, to mix your dough will make the resulting buns/rolls softer. The downside is that it also reduces their keeping qualities to a couple of days. Then again, who has home-made buns lying around after 2 days anyway?

Top Tip 2: To get even more of that pillowy softness, brush the hot just-baked buns/rolls with milk as soon as they come out of the oven and then cover with a clean cloth. The heat of the dough will turn the milk into steam and the cloth with keep the steam close, softening the rolls as they cool.

Top Tip 3: Dissolving sugar into warmed milk will give you a bun glaze that will dry with a nice sheen. NB The more sugar you add, the shinier (and therefore stickier) the finished effect will be.

Sweet Rose Buns – makes 12

250g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast acting easy blend yeast
25g caster sugar
40g butter
pinch of salt
1 large egg
60ml milk
60ml water
1 tsp vanilla extract

Filling
40g butter
grated zest of 1 lemon
4tbs caster sugar

  • Put the flour, yeast, sugar, butter, salt and egg into a food processor and blitz until well mixed. The mixture will resemble fine breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl and make a well in the middle. If you have a stand mixer and a dough hook, then use that.
  • Warm the milk.
  • Add in the water and the vanilla to cool it to blood temperature. To test: stick your finger in it – if you can’t feel it, then it’s at the correct temperature.
  • Add the liquid to the dry mix and bring together into a dough.NB It will be rather moist and soft, so if you’re kneading by hand, use a scraper on the surface to help you lift the dough as you knead it.
  • Knead the dough for 10 minutes, then set aside, covered, until doubled in size (about 45 minutes-1 hour).
  • Grease a 12 hole bun/cupcake tin.
  • Melt the butter. Have a pastry brush ready.
  • Grate the lemon zest.
  • Mix the lemon zest and sugar together.
  • Tip out the risen dough onto a floured surface and pat down to press out the air.
  • With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until very thin – just under 5mm. NB You will need to work quickly for the next part, because as soon as you stop rolling, the dough will start to rise again.
  • Brush the sheet of dough with melted butter.
  • Sprinkle the sugar/lemon mix evenly over the butter.
  • Using a 5cm plain round cutter, cut out rounds of dough.
  • Lay the dough out in rows of 7 circles, each circle of dough overlapping the previous one by half (see diagram).
  • Rose Rolls Assembly Instructions
  • Using a pizza wheel cutter[1] or sharp knife, cut along the mid-line of each row of dough as indicated. This will give you two sets of dough pieces, to make two rose shapes.
  • Roll up from the left hand side and drop into one of the holes in the bun tin.
  • Brush the finished rolls with beaten egg-white.
  • Cover and set to rise for 15-20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Mix the bun wash by mixing 2tbs caster sugar with 4tbs milk. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved in the milk, otherwise your glaze will be grainy.
  • Bake the risen buns for 15 minutes, turning the tin 180° after 10 minutes, to help get an even colour.
  • Brush the hot buns with the bun wash and cool on a wire rack, covered with a clean cloth.

Lemon Cream Cheese Dip

100g cream cheese
Juice of 1 lemon – use the one from the recipe
40g icing sugar
1 tbs milk – Optional

  • Beat the cream cheese until smooth.
  • Sift in the icing sugar and beat to combine.
  • Add the lemon juice and beat again until smooth.
  • If the mixture seems a little stiff, add in 1tbs milk to loosen it.

 

Bonus Post – Flower Tarts

As you know, I’m not great with decorating with fondant or sugar paste or anything like that. I don’t have the steady hands for delicate piping or the patience for sugar-work. I actually much prefer the dish itself to be its own decoration. So these little tarts are right up my street – especially as they require practically no skill whatsoever – Bonus for me!

Flower Fruit Tarts

I’m not including a recipe, because the picture pretty much speaks for itself – this is more of a decoration suggestion.

I blind baked some pastry cases in a mini muffin tin [2] – filled them with a vanilla creme patissiere (thick custard is fine) and topped them with a single, perfect berry.

The surrounding petals are made out of two rings of sliced almonds poked into the custard – how simple is that? *she says, channelling Ina*

Anyhoo – thought you might enjoy – so enjoy! 😀

———————————————

[1] I highly recommend getting a pizza wheel if you haven’t already got one – even if you don’t eat pizza! They’re extremely useful for cutting cleanly without dragging/tearing – perfect for this recipe.

[2] Top Tip 4 To blind bake the mini pastry cases, use mini muffin cases to line your pastry cases and fill them with rice. So much easier than trying to get parchment or foil in there.