There are a few things I think of as secret weapons in the kitchen. You know, skills that are pretty simple once we get a few things right and inspire self-confidence in the kitchen. A rich, chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie is on this list of kitchen secret weapons, as is a simple Roasted Chicken. Both inspire comfort and confidence. Also on our list of kitchen secret weapons is homemade caramel for its secret ease and definite versatility.
This caramel is made with mostly butter and brown sugar (honey, too!) which makes it really easy to simmer up and bind together. There’s also a lovely amount of spice – spice and salt enough to make this popcorn nearly impossible to set aside, making this (and every) caramel our secret weapon this summer.
Think: popcorn, ice cream, and whatever else you might think to swirl caramel into (yep, brownies).
Here’s what you’ll want to make this unstoppable popcorn:
• freshly popped popcorn – you’ll want to pop it yourself for the best tasting popcorn. Corn kernels, a hot pan, and a splash of oil will do the trick.
• unsalted butter, brown sugar, and honey as the base of our caramel.
• cinnamon, harissa spice, and sea salt for an intriguing balance of sweet and heat.
• baking soda to loosen the melted butter and sugar mixture to chewy. It’s a very scientific reaction that makes for a bubbling chewy caramel. It’s the secret weapon to our secret weapon.
We’ll start by melting together the butter, brown sugar, and honey. I find it useful to use a larger pot than you might think. The ingredients will at first be shallow in this medium-sized pan but once we add the baking soda, the mixture will foam and we’ll be thankful for the extra space.
Whisk over medium heat until the mixture comes together. The butter will melt. The sugar will melt. The honey is doing its thing, and my goodness it’s luscious.
Once the mixture is bubbling, smooth, and deepened to a mahogany color, remove it from the heat.
Here’s where the secret weapon science comes to play.
Mix in the baking soda while whisking vigorously. Whisk the mixture as vigorously and the caramel starts to bubble. You’ve got this.
Ah – you might also consider mixing together the spices, soda, and salt all at once to save yourself the effort. I mixed all of the spices, soda, and salt into the caramel separately. Both ways work!
The baking soda will create a fluffy (actually fluffy) and lightly colored caramel.
Stir in the harissa, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to happily and evenly combined.
The heat of the caramel mixture will help the ground spices bloom and the salt dissolve.
The popcorn bowl is very lightly greased which will keep the precious caramel from sticking to the sides of the bowl. A heat-proof spatula is a preferred when it comes to such hot sugar and this mixture will surely melt a spatula that’s not prepared for it.
Pour the hot caramel over the popped corn – and here’s where we move quickly.
Toss to combine.
Toss and keep the caramel off your fingers (it’s hot!).
Toss to coat, but just as best as you can. It’s hard to coat every piece completely, but that’s part of the charm.
The good news is, the popcorn is ready to eat just as soon as it cools enough to handle.
Or! For a more crisp caramel corn, spread the coated popcorn across a parchment lined baking sheet and let it lightly bake in the oven for about an hour. Patience required but it’s worth it!
I’m a secret salt-feind so I love an extra dose of sea salt before I bake my caramel corn.
Just. Look. At. This. Glory!
The harissa adds a really lovely smokey spice to the caramel corn. Something you can’t quite put your finger on but something you truly can’t stop eating. The ground cinnamon adds a familiar balance and the salty sweet notes of brown sugar and sea salt makes this juuuust right.
Store in an airtight container (especially if it’s humid where ya live, hello New Orleans), and share with your friends when they stop in for a visit. It’s summer, secret weapon, county fair vibes.
Photos with my dear Jon Melendez.
This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Butter Short Stack Book!Print
Cinnamon Harissa Caramel Corn
- Prep Time: 0 hours
- Cook Time: 0 hours
- Total Time: 0 hours
- 6 heaping cups popped plain popcorn
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground harissa
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 2/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Oil a large bowl with cooking spray and toss in the popped popcorn.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and harissa.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the butter, sugar, and honey and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the color is light mahogany. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the baking soda and spice mixture. The caramel will bubble up furiously, stir just as furiously to evenly incorporate everything.
- Pour the caramel over the popcorn.
- Working with a heatproof spatula, turn the popcorn around for a few minutes, spreading the caramel as evenly as possible. You won’t get a perfectly even caramel coating, but you’ll come close.
- The popcorn is ready to eat as soon as it cools, or it can be crisped in the oven.
- To crisp, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Scrape the popcorn onto a parchment lined packing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake for 1 hour, turning every 20 minutes to make sure nothing sticks and everything is evenly baked.
- Remove popcorn from the oven and let it cool on the baking sheet.
- The popcorn will keep in a plastic bag or sealed container for a few good days.
This is absolutely delicious. Thank you!
Yummy, count me in for adding this to my list of, “amazing dishes to make”.
I had to say that this is amazing. I made it with chipotle powder instead of harissa and it came out wonderfully.
I haven’t made popcorn in ages! THIS recipe requires I watch a rom-com outside on a projector or the drive-in. Serious nostalgic vibes!
http://www.liveloveblu.com | wellness & healthy living
This, is magic.
The Modern Proper
I’ve never made homemade caramel corn but with your instructions, it doesn’t sound that hard! My husband loves caramel so I just might need to surprise him with this one night.
Carissa Nelson | Spoonful of Easy
Love a kitchen secret weapon! I’ve never tried harissa but love a sweet heat combo. And your popcorn container is crazy adorable and I would feel so cool eating this out of that! Needed!
I love caramel popcorn! But my insides hate me when I eat it because of the butter. Do you think I could use ghee or it needs the milk solids in order to become caramel?
I am fully on board with this taste experiment. I keep putting off searching for harissa, but it would appear that I should dally no longer. Harissa meatballs with a popcorn appetizer?
Wow, does this look amazing! Can’t wait to try it! How do you stay so slim with all the yummy things you make? And, when are you coming to Detroit?
Can a harissa paste be used instead of powder?
It has been so long ago I made popcorn – now you inspired me to try out what you show today!
xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena