A big bowl of popcorn is of greatest joy with a movie. It’s like, euphoria when we dig the hand into a tub of popcorn while watching a movie in the theatre. The crunchy-munchy bites and the seducing aroma that tickles the nose and tastebuds, make popcorn a beloved treat for all. Movie and popcorn are married now, but you know, when movie theatres came into existence, they did not allow popcorns inside the theatres. The halls were considered of prime value, for elites. The foods with fewer commercial values were not accepted for riches.
Fortunately or unfortunately, after a time, the expensive theatres went through economic lows and the vendor selling popcorn outside the theatres became much popular with the public. To manage the commercial breakdowns they had to invade the popcorn market. They started selling the popcorn inside the theatres and the revenues sustained. We can say popcorn saved the theatre business.
I make popcorn at home for our movie nights. Mostly at weekends, we watch movies on the big screen. Imagine, watching hilarious movies on the big screen with your whole family, in a dark room, with lots and lots of popcorn. Won’t it be fun? No movies night has gone-by without popcorn until now. In fact, I do make different varieties of flavoured popcorn too.
Today I have a recipe of caramel popcorn for you. Personally I like to take half salted and half caramel popcorn mixed together in my bowl.
Making crunchy caramel popcorn is a two-step process. First, you make a simple caramel sauce with butter and brown sugar. Then you coat the prepared popcorn with caramel sauce and bake it in the oven until dry and crispy.
So what makes popcorn pop? The secret is in the kernel. Popcorn comes from a certain variety of maize that produces small kernels with a hard outer shell. These kernels cannot be chewed, as they are extremely hard.
Popcorn kernels contain oil and water with protein and starch, surrounded by a hard and strong outer coating. When popcorn is heated, the water inside the kernel tries to expand into steam, and it escapes through the seed coat (the popcorn hull or pericarp). The hot oil and steam gelatinizes the starch inside the popcorn kernel, making it softer and more pliable.
When the popcorn reaches 180 C (356 F), the pressure inside the kernel ruptures the popcorn hull, turning the kernel inside-out. The pressure inside the kernel is released very quickly, expanding the proteins and starch inside the popcorn kernel into a form which cools and sets into the white popcorn puff. A popped piece of corn is about 20 to 50 times larger than the original kernel.
If popcorn is heated too slowly, it won’t pop because steam leaks out of the tender tip of the kernel. If popcorn is heated too quickly, it will pop, but the centre of each kernel will be hard because the starch hasn’t had time to gelatinize and form a foam.
How to ensure the correct popping of popcorn – Warm 3 to 4 corn kernels and little oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the corn kernels to the pan, shake to coat with oil, and put the lid on the pan. This technique will guide you to the right temperature.
I prefer to keep a jali (net lid) (the one we use for covering milk at home) to cover the popcorn when making. This makes sure that no droplets of water condensation jump back into the popcorn wok, during the popping process.
1/2 cup unpopped corn kernels + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
or (10-12 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment. And set aside.
Make the popcorn. You can use the microwave popcorn or the regular kernels to make the popcorn. Just make sure not to burn them.
Empty the popped corn immediately into a large heat-proof bowl.
Make the caramel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the sugar until the sugar is completely moistened. Keep the flame on medium-low and boil. Once boiling, boil for 3-4 minutes. while swirling the pan occasionally.
The temperature should reach 250*F. The colour will start to get deeper as the temperature rises.
Off the heat, add the vanilla, salt, baking soda. The sugar mixture will bubble up violently. Stir until you form a thick, glossy sauce.
Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn while stirring the popcorn (it helps if you have a partner for this step — one person pouring while the other stirs the popcorn). Continue stirring the sauce into the popcorn until all are coated.
Divide the popcorn between two baking sheets, spreading the popcorn out into an even layer. It’s ok if the popcorn clumps together. Bake for 25 minutes.
Let the popcorn cool completely on the baking sheets. You will find them wet and soft, as they come out of the oven, but as they cool, they get crunchy.
Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to a week.