Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday's Twist: Browned Butter Caramel Corn

Tuesday's Twist:  A basic recipe with a fun twist.  In other words, just another excuse for me to play around with weird recipes I've been dying to try.

These browned butter chocolate chip cookies opened my eyes to the magic of browned butter.  Heating butter slowly until golden brown adds nutty, toffee notes on top of the rich, buttery flavors.  It reminded me so much of caramel corn I figured why not use browned butter IN caramel corn.  Because caramel corn just isn't addicting enough as it is.

In college the Culinary Science Club started the tradition of making and selling gourmet flavored popcorn for our fundraisers.  Caramel corn was always the best seller. Since I can never leave a recipe alone, I started with the one we used in club and began my tweaking.  Seeing as browned butter already has caramel and toffee notes, I wanted to try cutting back on the butter.  That way you can eat twice as much, right?  I also thought it would be nice to keep it to one stick of butter; avoiding the potential mess of partial, leftover sticks.  Cutting back on the butter effected the liquid/sugar ratio so I also had to adjust the brown sugar and corn syrup.

The first time I tried this I was more focused on the effect of the browned butter and didn't want to play too much with the sugar ratios. The coating had too many sugar crystals resulting in an overly sweet, grainy textured caramel corn.  After a little more tweaking to the sugar ratios and cooking time I found just the right combination.

I already told you a little about caramel corn technique in this post on cake mix caramel corn.  I thought about going into the science behind browned butter, but that will have to wait for another day. I'd much rather stay here and fill you in on the beauty of browned butter, but I have another day of orientation waiting.  On Monday I got to practice using a fire extinguisher and tour an emergency simulation lab.  Before operating on actual people, surgeons go through all types of simulations using computer programs and high-tech mannequins to prepare for every possible mishap.  I doubt today's topics will be as interesting, but you never know.

While I'm sitting in class, you should brown some butter and make this caramel corn.  Popcorn gets a shiny, golden brown coating of sweet, buttery toffee.  Easy to make and hard to resist. Just be sure to save some for tomorrow's weird recipe....or make a second batch.  Yeah, just plan to make another batch.  After all, it's good practice. 

Browned Butter Caramel Corn

18 cups air-popped popcorn
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla

* Place popcorn in a large heat-proof bowl; removing any unpopped kernels. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Set aside.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
* In a 2-qt saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat.  Stir occasionally and continue heating until butter turns golden brown, about 8 to10 minutes. Remove from heat.
* Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Bring to a rapid boil over medium heat.  Boil 10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until syrup is thickened and begins to form strings when dropped from a spoon.
* Remove from heat and carefully stir in baking soda and vanilla; mixture will foam.
* Carefully pour syrup over popcorn and stir gently to coat.  Spread onto prepared baking sheet and bake 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to distribute caramel. Let cool and break into pieces. Store in airtight container or resealable plastic bag.

Food for Thought: "Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any any experience that reveals the human spirit." -E.E. Cummings 

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