Caramel Cayenne Popcorn

In Confections on November 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm
From Food Photography

I used to hate spicy food as a child.

I couldn’t understand how anyone could enjoy having their palate assaulted, or how they could stand eating as the outlines of their lips become embossed with pinpricks of pain.

I couldn’t tolerate heat, no matter the amount.  It distracted from the flavor of the food, forcing me to focus instead on the burgeoning pain at the back of my throat.

My father, on the contrary, loved the heat. He kept a jar of home ground, bright red and brown flecked chili flakes over the kitchen cabinet, and sprinkled what may as well have been a whole teaspoonful over every meal. He seemed to be immune to the burn.

So unlike him, I could detect minuscule amounts of heat in my food.

I would often spend hours with burning lips and tearing eyes after eating something he promised could not possibly have any detectable traces of chili.

Spice and chili may have felt so unnaturally hot to me because I frequently managed to get some around my eyes and nose, but no matter the reason, I did my best to stay away from it.

As I grew older, I gradually became desensitized to the burn, and eventually, the heat stopped bothering me altogether.

Now I am even able appreciate it.

I wasn’t the least bit reluctant last Thanksgiving when my father suggested I add a pinch of hot chili flakes to the batch of caramel popcorn I was making.

The sweet, crisp kernels of popcorn are just sticky enough to hold together to form clusters that are drizzled over with smooth dark chocolate. And the occasional hot clump lends a sense of surprise that turns into anticipation as soon as the burn dies out.

I made three batches over Thanksgiving break, and now, two days later, none remains. I almost ran into a crisis when it came to photographing it because of the rate at which it was disappearing. It’s the most popular dessert I’ve made yet. 

From Food Photography

I’m honored to be guest posting at Jana’s blog Zuckerbaeckerei again this year!  This post will be up on her blog translated into German in December. 

Caramel Cayenne Popcorn
With minor adaptations from Baked Explorations

1 cup unpopped kernels or 24 cups popped corn
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon chili powder (more or less depending on level of heat of the chili powder)
12 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), melted

If you are starting with kernels, pop them using any method you prefer and let them cool. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Place the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, start to melt the butter. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and molasses, and stir gently with a heatproof spatula. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring only occasionally, until the mixture starts to boil. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the syrup to the soft-ball stage, approximately 240 degrees F. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt, the baking soda, and vanilla. Pour the caramel over the popcorn in large streams, then sprinkle with chili powder. Use your spatula to fold the popcorn until it is completely coated with caramel.

Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Use a spatula to lift, flip, and coat the popcorn in the warm caramel, then continue baking for another 20 minutes. Cool the caramel popcorn in the pan for 5 minutes and transfer it to the lined sheet pan. Cool for approximately 15 minutes and drizzle the dark chocolate in crisscross patterns over the top. Let the chocolate set before breaking the popcorn into serving-size pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

  1. […] Bittersweet Baker: Caramel Cayenne Popcorn […]

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