By Kate Krader
The kernels are doused in a cayenne pepper caramel infused with ale. Add bacon for a result that’s addictively smoky, sweet, and spicy, combining a lot of crave-able products in one. It’s a no-brainer with beer, since that’s the secret ingredient, although it will complement a wintry whiskey drink, too.
And as a show-off snack for playoff games (and the Super Bowl, on Feb. 7), as well as any series you are compulsively streaming on Netflix? Fuhgettaboutit.
Presumably, everyone knows how to prepare the base ingredients, bacon and popcorn. That leaves the beer caramel, which is the trickiest part, but it’s made infinitely simpler with a candy thermometer. (This costs less than $10 at grocery stores or online). Then it’s just a matter of combining the products and waiting for the popcorn to cool enough before you start eating it.
Makes about 4 cups
6 slices thick-cut bacon or 10 slices regular bacon
Vegetable oil cooking spray, or vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
4 tbsp. rendered bacon fat (from cooking the bacon)
3 cups sugar
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup dark English ale
¼ cup water
1 ½ tbsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
In a pan, fry the bacon until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to cool, then crumble into large pieces. Pour off 4 tablespoons fat for the popcorn. Reserve the remaining fat for an additional use. (The book’s authors, who are strong no-waste advocates, recommend mixing leftover with softened butter for a porky spread in bread and muffins.)
Spray a large mixing bowl, baking sheet, and two large metal mixing spoons with non-stick cooking spray. In a popcorn popper or large pot with a lid, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn, cover, and cook until all the kernels have popped, shaking constantly to prevent burning. If using a popper, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer the popcorn to the coated bowl and mix in the cooked bacon. Combine the baking soda and cayenne in a small bowl.
Combine the sugar, ale, water, butter, and salt in large pot. Cook until the mixture turns a rich golden brown and reaches 305F, or the hard crack stage, on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. (If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a spoonful of syrup in cold water; it should be hard enough to crack if you mold it.) Remove the pan from heat and stir in the cayenne and baking soda for 30 seconds, until any clumps have been dispersed and the foam subsides. Immediately pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn and bacon and mix well, using the prepared spoons, until everything is well-coated.
Spread the caramel corn onto the prepared baking sheet. Let cool, then break apart into bite-sized pieces and serve.