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Spicy Caramel Popcorn

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We’ve had several days of steady cold and autumn rain here in Port Elgin.  Being cooped up inside with an energetic two-year-old isn’t particularly conducive to relaxation, and definitely prevents curling up with a good book to wait out the weather – unless it’s a picture book full of dump trucks and diggers.  My son thoroughly approves of those kinds of books, though I’ve reached my daily limit by 10 a.m. most days!  

So I was quite excited to stumble across this recipe on a neat cooking blog.  Spicy Caramel Popcorn sounded like it met my immediate requirements for comfort food with a touch of exotic unconventionality! 

The combination of hot spicy with sweet is one that I find both fascinating and intimidating, ever since I learned about the Mayans mixing their hot chocolate with chili peppers.  A few years ago at university, I also discovered an addictive dark chocolate bar with hot pepper flakes that tasted spectacular with coffee during class!  That managed to convince me that the combination really does work, and actually produces some very unusual and delicious food.  

This popcorn turned out great! 

The salt, cayenne pepper, and caramel all manage to hold their own, with no ingredient overpowering the other but each making its presence equally known.

I fiddled a bit with the quantities in the original recipe, so, depending on how hot your cayenne is, you might come out with something slightly different.  I used unsalted peanuts, rather than salted as the recipe called for, but compensated by adding an extra teaspoon of kosher salt. 

Give it a try; you won’t be disappointed and you’ll definitely manage to forget the dreary rain for a little awhile!  








Spicy Caramel Popcorn

Vegetable oil

½ cup popcorn kernels

2 cups unsalted peanuts (optional)

1-1/2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp cayenne pepper (use more or less, depending on how you like it)

3 cups white sugar

3 tbsp unsalted butter

4 tsp kosher salt

Lightly coat two large spatulas, a very large mixing bowl (size is important!), and two large baking sheets with vegetable oil.

In a large pot with a lid, heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and keep shaking the pot until all the kernels have popped.  Transfer to the greased bowl, removing any unpopped kernels.  Toss with the peanuts, if using.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper.

Have the two baking sheets ready.  In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt, and ½ cup water.  Cook over high heat, not stirring after all ingredients have melted and been combined, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the baking soda mixture.

Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn.  Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.

Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm.  Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.  Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.  (It will never last that long in this house, though!

From the “Smitten Kitchen” blog

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Thursday, October 27, 2011