Besides the two heavy-hitters of Easter and Passover, spring holidays are pretty thin on the ground. Yet spring is the season when we feel real joy at the milder weather and accompanying return of our outdoor lives. It feels appropriate, therefore, to commemorate baseball’s opening week with a recipe inspired by National Caramel Popcorn Day: surely the return of America’s pastime deserves its own celebration? This is a decidedly grown-up version of the ballpark Cracker Jack you dug through as a kid just to reach the prize. It gets its kick from aromatic Aleppo pepper, which mixes sublimely with the salty-sweet butter caramel, toasted pecans and crispy corn. This features one of the quickest, easiest caramels we’ve made, and the results are nothing short of addictive.
Spicy Caramel Popcorn
Adapted from Spice by Ana Sortun
- ½ cup yellow popcorn, preferably organic
- ½ cup pecan pieces or halves, lightly toasted
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- 2 ½ tsp Aleppo pepper (or substitute Korean or Urfa pepper)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (do not use foil)
Put the popcorn in a lunch-size brown paper bag, and roll the top several times to close. Microwave for two to three minutes–the timing will vary according to your microwave, so listen for when the pops begin to slow. Before opening the bag (be careful, as it will steam), shake all unpopped kernels down to the bottom and scoop the popped corn out into a large bowl. If many unpopped kernels remain, you can microwave them longer. Mix the pecans into the popped corn.
Pour ½ cup water into a 4-quart saucepan, and pour sugar and salt over the top. Add the butter, then cook on medium-high heat without stirring until the bubbles on top begin to turn dark amber. You want to make sure the caramel is dark enough to cool crispy but stop cooking it before it begins to burn (this can take some practice). Pull off the heat and stir the baking soda and pepper in with a long-handled, heat-proof spoon or spatula. The caramel will aerate and bubble up. Wearing oven mitts on both hands, pour caramel quickly over the popcorn and nuts while stirring in as best you can; don’t worry about getting every last bit of caramel out, as speed is important here. Still being careful as you handle the bowl and the mixture–it’s very hot!–pour onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out as evenly as possible with the spoon or spatula.
Let the mixture cool completely, then break apart and serve. It will keep in a sealed ziploc for a couple of weeks, if it lasts that long.