In the early days of our arrival in Jakarta I recall scanning the supermarket shelves for tasty snacks for my family. Keen to avoid MSG and other food additives and artificial colours and flavours, I spent a lot of time reading the information panels on the sides of packaging. Surprisingly (and disappointingly), a good proportion of local and imported snacks contain MSG at the very least. I quickly identified a small handful of products which I felt were a reasonable option for my family (although many were very expensive). At the same time, I rediscovered an old childhood treat – Popcorn! As a very cost effective snack, I started to stock my pantry with packets of popcorn kernels and I now regularly prepare it lightly salted for afternoon tea, or make it for the kid’s lunch boxes.
Today’s ajb recipe, Spiced Caramel Popcorn takes plain popcorn to a new level! Using a handful of Indonesian staple ingredients including palm sugars, cinnamon and Balinese salt, we create an amazing caramel sauce in which to douse our popcorn. A gentle rest in a warm oven and you’re in crunchy Caramel Popcorn Heaven! A simple recipe that can be prepared in just over an hour, we recommend this recipe for your next family movie night – It’s a definite winner! Enjoy 🙂
How to make Spiced Caramel Popcorn
(Makes approx. 12 cups of Popcorn)
1/2 Cup popcorn kernels
1 Tb vegetable oil (not palm oil)
3/4 Cup unsalted butter (approx. 165g)
1 Cup in total of coconut sugar and/or palm sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp Bali salt flakes
1/4 tsp baking powder
Preheat a warm oven to 70°C. Line a baking tray with grease-proof baking paper.
To pop the popcorn, simply combine the corn kernels with the vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Cover with a well-fitting lid and cook over medium heat. When the kernels begin to pop, shake to coat with oil, and continue shaking occasionally, until the popping slows. Remove from heat (*Alternatively use a popcorn machine if you have one!)
Immediately empty the popped corn into a large heat-proof bowl, taking care to remove any burnt or unpopped kernels.
To make the caramel sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat.
Mix in the sugar until completely combined. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil.
Once boiling, continue cooking for 3-4 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the saucepan continuously. (Boil for a minute less if cooking on an electric cooktop).
Next add the vanilla, salt, baking powder, and any extras (see Cook’s notes below). Stir until combined. The sugar mixture will bubble quite a lot so take care – “Hati! Hati!”.
Continue stirring until a thick, glossy sauce forms. Remove from heat.
Slowly pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn whilst simultaneously stirring the popcorn (a second set of hands may be useful at this stage).
Continue stirring the sauce into the popcorn until completely coated.
Spread the popcorn out in an even layer on lined baking tray. To dry out the popcorn, bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. If you notice a burning smell, reduce heat immediately but continue to gently bake the popcorn in the oven.
After an hour, remove popcorn from the oven and allow to cool completely. Either serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
It’s hard to go past the original version of this recipe but, if you’re looking to shake it up a bit, we have two suggestions:
Salted Caramel Popcorn: Increase the amount of salt to 1 teaspoon and sprinkle the baked popcorn with sea salt while it’s still warm from the oven.
Nutty Caramel Popcorn: After coating popcorn with caramel sauce, mix through 1/4 cup roasted cashews or peanuts then proceed to bake in oven as per Method.
Why not use your Caramel Popcorn as a gift? Place a serving of Popcorn into a clip lock bag and present in a batik drawstring bag. The drawstring bag can be used again and no doubt the Caramel Popcorn will be appreciated as well.
Interesting facts about the star ingredients in today’s ajb Recipe
Corn – Corn is not an indigenous crop to Indonesia, in fact it was introduced by the Portuguese along with tobacco, pineapple, papaya, sweet potato, cashews amongst other plants.
Cinnamon – There are several plants in the genus Cinnamomum whose bark is sold as the spice, Cinnamon. In Indonesia, Cinnamomum burmanii is the most readily available cinnamon and is native to the archipelago. It is derived from the bark of an evergreen tree which grows to a maximum height of 7 metres. It grows most prolifically in West Sumatra.
Palm Sugar and Coconut Sugar – Both Palm Sugar and Coconut Sugar are natural sweeteners which come from trees: Coconut Sugar is derived from the buds of coconut palm flowers, whereas Palm Sugar is made from the sap of the sugar palm tree (also called date palm). In both cases sap is collected, then boiled to create the sugar.
Balinese Salt – Harvesting salt from sea water is a traditional livelihood for a few small communities in the Amed area on the east coast of Bali. Adopting a very simple yet time consuming and labour-intensive process, salt farmers use rows of wooden trays laid out on large open areas on the beach to slowly evaporate the sea water, leaving behind the salt. But this is just the beginning of the process. To find out more, we recommend you visit the salt harvesting communities in Amed, Bali.
Other simple AJB recipes or sweet treats that you must try:
How to make delicious gluten-free “Kue Singkong” (Cassava cake)
How to make ajb’s Pineapple Upside down Cake
ajb’s Quick and Easy guide to making morish Martabak
ajb’s Guide to Indonesia’s traditional cakes and sweets, ‘Jajanan Pasar’
Words: Jo Stevens Photography: a Journey Bespoke