Welcome to our new(ish) column, "Ask the Pastry Chef," by Amy Morris, a pastry sous chef at J&G Steakhouse. Have a question for Amy? Leave it in the comments section.
With Caramelpalooza coming up this Friday, I'm suddenly caramel-obsessed! Can I make caramel popcorn without having to bake it? We all love simple recipes, and the less work involved is even better. I tried a couple of recipes that made a caramel out of brown sugar and I ended up not becoming a fan.
Understandably, these recipes should be easier because you don't have to worry about burning the sugar. But, after you made the caramel and coated the popcorn, in the oven it went. That's another step that I felt isn't necessary if the sugar is cooked well the first time.
Easiest way to accomplish that is to use good old regular granulated sugar.
For beginners making caramel, a candy thermometer is a good investment. Along with that and my pointers you will end up with crunchy caramel popcorn.
Before you begin, have everything ready to go. Have a sheet pan ready to spread them out on to cool--it will make it easier to break them apart--and have your butter and popcorn measured and set to the side.
Sugar may have a slow start to begin caramelizing, but once it gets going it will heat up fast and the better off you will be if you're prepared.
Also, use a large stainless steel soup pot. I find it's easier to add the popcorn into the caramel itself, not only is it one less dish to clean, but also keeps the caramel from hardening too fast. This way, in the already warm environment, the caramel will spread evenly over the popcorn.
Did I mention that it will be easy to stir too?
The tricky part is cooking the sugar. Once you've done it a few times this process becomes less intimidating and easier. If you're going to go through the hassle of making caramel popcorn at home, might as well go all the way!
¾ cup granulated sugar 1 tablespoon light corn syrup ¼ cup water 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 cups popped popcorn
In a stainless steel pot combine the sugar and corn syrup. Shake the pot a little so that the sugar is evenly spread. Add in the water by pouring it along the rounded edges first. Attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pot, so that it is in the sugar.
On high heat, begin heating the sugar mixture. Do not stir it, or move the pot. Once it begins to turn a golden amber color, lower the heat, or you can turn it off, but continue to cook it over the warm burner. It's also at this stage you may begin to stir the caramel, but not before.
Cook the caramel until it reaches the hard crack stage, or 150-160°C. Take the caramel off of the heat and add in the butter. Swirl or stir the butter till it's incorporated.
Quickly add the already measured popcorn and stir gently till all is coated evenly.
Spread the popcorn onto a sheet tray to allow it to cool. Once it has reached room temperature, break apart the popcorn to the desired clusters you prefer.