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Caramel popcorn with cacao nibs

Posted on April 03 2020

caramel popcorn

Corn and cacao are the two most important ingredients that the Americas gave to the world and putting them together in recipes comes naturally. The combination of corn, cacao, and butter caramel is perfect here. I have been making caramel popcorn as long as I can remember and after becoming a chocolate maker I have started to include cacao nibs in this recipe.

Caramel popcorn by definition has to be very sweet and the addition of the nibs adds that perfect adult dimension. A hint of chocolate with crunchy bitterness, coated in butter caramel. I only add 1/2 cup (65g) of cocoa nibs, I think this is the perfect balance, but you can add up to 1 cup without having to change anything else in the recipe. 

Even though this recipe is very easy to make, you have to have a thermometer or be accustomed to working with sugar and caramels. When I used to make this popcorn to sell at farmer's markets, I would pop the corn a day ahead and have hundreds of 1 gallon ziplock bags full of popped corn, the 1 gallon bags were the exact size to hold 12 cups of popped corn for this recipe. 

It is best to have all the ingredients measured and ready to go ahead of time because you are dealing with sugar and fire. Have everything ready next to you because when the temperature hits 300f (148c) you have to work quickly to avoid burning or hardening of the caramel. 

Caramel popcorn nibs

Recipe

  • 100 grams corn kernels popped (1/2 cup) (or 12 cups of popped corn or 80 grams)
  • 65 grams of cocoa nibs (1/2 cup) 
  • Sugar 280 grams (1.25 cups)
  • Brown sugar 136 grams (3/4 cup)
  • Corn syrup 120 grams (1/3 cup)
  • Unsalted butter 90 grams (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon)
  • Water 1/2 cup
  • Salt 15 grams (2 teaspoons)
  • Baking soda 10 grams (1.5 teaspoon)

 

Equipment
1. Heavy pot (preferably copper), big enough to fit all the popped corn
2. Two long wooden spoons or silicone spatulas
3. Large tray, metal or marble table to spread the finished caramel popcorn
4. Food thermometer

Instructions
1. In a large heavy pot add: sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and water.
2. Place the pot over a medium flame and boil, stirring slowly with a spoon.
3. Stir slowly until the caramel reaches 300F (148C), about 15 minutes. This is hard crack stage for cooked sugar. 
4. Once the temperature reaches 300F (148C), turn off the heat and add the salt and baking soda, stir quickly and carefully, the caramel will expand at this point.
5. Once the salt and baking soda is incorporated you must move fast! Add the popcorn and nibs to the pot and using both spoons, one in each hand, toss the popcorn and nibs to get coated with the caramel. You have seconds before it begins to harden so you must work quickly to get everything coated.
6. Quickly pour everything out into a marble table or large metal tray to cool. Spread out to cool evenly. You can use your hands to pull it apart but it will be hot.
7. Allow to cool about 15 minutes, store in a bag or jar that seals well to keep away moisture. The popcorn will keep fresh and crunchy up to two weeks if sealed correctly and kept away from humidity. 

Variations
1. Add any nuts or seeds when adding the nibs like walnuts, pecans, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, pistachios, etc. Should not equal more than 1/2 cup of items otherwise there will not be enough caramel to coat everything. 
2. Add dried fruits like orange peel or cranberries ... up to 1/2 cup. 
3. Add any powdered spice along with the baking soda and salt like garam masala, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, chile pepper flakes, etc. Up to 2 tablespoons.

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