Crispy Chocolate Popcorn

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In the past year, I’ve completely overhauled my diet. I eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, keep my foods minimally processed… and that also means cutting out sweets. I don’t crave dessert with the same intensity as I used to, but every now and then, I just want something a little sweet and chocolatey, y’know?

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Enter chocolate popcorn. You can eat more than a couple of bites and still minimize the caloric impact AND indulge your sweet tooth. I came across this crispy chocolate popcorn recipe from Stella Parks on Serious Eats a few months ago and I finally got around to making it. You essentially make a caramel, flavor it with chocolate, and toss freshly popped popcorn in it. The end result is a chocolate-flavored caramel popcorn that agglomerates in chunks.

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I wanted to stretch my chocolate calories even further, and I boldly decided to double the amount of popcorn recommended in the recipe. It was still excellent! The original recipe called for about 7 cups of popped corn (or 50g), but as you can see in the half sheet above, I used 100g of corn and I felt like there was still plenty of coating per kernel. I even recently remade this recipe with 125g of popcorn and still felt like the coating-to-popcorn ratio was fine, and I didn’t mind a more naked kernel every few bites, and a less agglomerated effect. That’s probably as far as I would go with regards to stretching the chocolate caramel coating, though.

I feel like this recipe is ripe for a riff – maybe adding more salt for more of a sweet/salty effect? Maybe add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a touch of the exotic?

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A few things I noted about this recipe:

  • I love that Stella is a pastry chef. That means recipes have weight measures, and even better, they’re in grams, so I can get my precision down to a TEE.
  • The recipe calls for a candy thermometer which I did NOT have, so I kinda eyeballed the caramelization around the 7-8 minute mark and when it looked like the color of caramel, I turned off the heat. (Sorry I can’t give more specific guidance other than that; therein lies the wisdom of trial and error)
  • Here’s how to pop corn without any special equipment OR added oil. I heated a large soup pot on medium high. When you spritz a bit of water with your fingers in the pot and it immediately sizzles and evaporates, that’s when the pot is hot enough. Put your corn in there – it should all be in contact with the pot bottom. Cover the pot with a lid. For the next few minutes, you should be continually jiggling the pot lightly so the kernels don’t get too hot in one spot. After 20-30 seconds, the popping will start, and it should pick up at a pretty quick clip eventually. When it takes more than 3 seconds for the next kernel to pop (either by sight if you have a clear lid, or by ear if you don’t), that’s when you’re done and you should turn off the heat – you don’t want to burn your popcorn for the sake of popping those stragglers.

Crispy Chocolate Popcorn
Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients
2 ounces unsalted butter (about 4 tablespoons; 55g) or 1 1/2 ounces raw cocoa butter (shy 1/4 cup; 40g), plus more for greasing
3.5 ounces freshly popped popcorn (about 14 cups once popped; 100g, you can go up to 4.5 oz or 125g for a lighter coating)
3 ounces water (about 1/3 cup; 85g)
4 ounces golden syrup or light corn syrup (about 1/3 cup; 110g)
9 ounces sugar (about 1 1/4 cups; 255g)
3 ounces 72% dark chocolate, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup; 85g)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
Directions
1.
Lightly grease a large bowl, and add freshly popped popcorn. You should have about 7 cups; if significantly less, this may be a sign the the popcorn is dense and stale and that a newer batch of kernels is in order.

2.
In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, golden or corn syrup, butter or cocoa butter, and sugar over medium heat. Stir with a fork until bubbling hot, about 4 minutes. Increase to medium-high, clip on a digital thermometer and cook without stirring until the syrup is 340°F, about 10 minutes. If the process is taking too long, simply increase the heat.

3.
Meanwhile, lightly grease a rimmed half sheet pan, and prepare the remaining ingredients so they’re ready to add at a moment’s notice. When the syrup comes to temperature, remove from heat, stir in chocolate with a heat-resistant spatula, followed by the baking soda and salt. When the mixture is foamy, pour over the popcorn and fold until the pieces are thoroughly coated.

4.
Scrape onto the prepared baking sheet, pulling the chunks of popcorn into bite-sized clusters with a pair of metal forks. Cool until the soft candy shell is hard and crisp, about 45 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container. It’s best to store the popcorn as soon as it’s cooled, as excessive exposure to air may cause it to soften from humidity. Store up to 2 weeks at room temperature, or 1 month in the fridge.