If your nose doesnt lead you to the kettle-corn vendor at just about any state fair, festival or farmers market, then your ears surely will. The aroma of lightly caramelized popcorn combined with the sound of popping is all the encouragement I need to buy a big bag.
In the pantheon of popcorns, kettle corn sits somewhere between plain popped corn and caramel corn. Its lightly golden more or less so depending on the amount of sugar you use and salty-sweet. It has a crisp crunch from the sugar coating, but wont stick to your teeth the way caramel corn sometimes does.
If youre craving this sweet and crunchy treat without the road trip, though, you can make kettle corn at home. It takes significantly less time than full-on caramel corn since its made entirely on the stove. Its a five-minute snack right when you need one.
The secret to kettle corn, both at the state fair and at home, is letting the sugar caramelize just a bit over direct heat as the popcorn pops. You cant imitate that rich flavor in the microwave or with commercial microwave popcorn. You have to pop corn in a pot on the stove, letting sugar in the pot coat the corn.
To avoid burning the sugar and to get every piece of popcorn coated with sugar, you have to keep shaking the pan as the popcorn pops. Dont be tempted to wait until every kernel has popped; you might scorch the whole batch. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the popping slows. This said, you'll always get a few burnt pieces in the bunch just pick them out and carry on snacking.
Kettle corn has become my new favorite afternoon treat. Its also easy to pack up and tuck in your bag for an easy snack on the go.
Emma Christensen is recipe editor at TheKitchn.com, a website for food and home cooking.
LINE a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it near the stove. You will pour the popped corn out onto this sheet to cool.
POUR the oil into the pot and drop three kernels of corn into the oil. These three kernels will be your signal when the oil is hot. Cover with the lid and set over medium-high heat.
WHEN you hear one of the kernels pop, uncover the pot and pour in the rest of the kernels, sugar and salt. Use 1/4 cup of sugar if you like slightly sweet kettle corn and more if you like it sweeter. Quickly stir everything together to coat all the kernels and replace the lid.
SHAKE the pan occasionally as the popcorn starts to pop, and then more frequently and vigorously as the popping increases. Rest the pot on the burner every few seconds to maintain the heat. (Some wisps of steam toward the end of popping are normal – don’t confuse this with smoke. However, if you smell smoke, stop popping and proceed with the next steps.)
WHEN you hear the popping begin to slow, 1 to 2 seconds between pops, remove the pan from heat. (Don’t wait for every kernel to pop or you’ll burn the popcorn; as soon as you think it might be starting to slow down, take it off the heat.) Total popping time is about 2 to 3 minutes on an electric stove.
UNCOVER the pot immediately and pour the popcorn on the prepared baking sheet. Use the long-handled spoon and your fingers to spread the popcorn in an even layer to cool and pick out any burnt pieces (there are always a few in every batch).
COOL the kettle corn at least 5 minutes. The popcorn will crisp as it cools. Eat immediately or store in an airtight container for several days.
NOTE: Kettle corn is usually made with plain white sugar, but you can experiment. Try another granulated sugar, such as turbinado or muscavado, or experiment with liquid sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.Yield: About 10 cups (6 to 8 servings).