I grew up in a popcorn family. Every night after dinner, after the dishes had been cleaned and put away, after homework was done, my mom would cook up a giant pot of popcorn then douse it in enough salt to keep a cardiologist in business for years. The smell of popcorn meant that it was time to relax in front of the television or around a game table. I still have a Pavlovian response of calm at the sound of corn popping.
Illinois has its own illustrious history with popcorn. The first commercial popcorn machine was invented in Chicago in 1885 and the salty stuff is our official state snack. Further afield in the Midwest finds the largest popping corn-growing state (Nebraska) and South Dakota’s Corn Palace, a giant building covered in murals made of corn and grain—currently under “corn-struction” for improvements, re-opening in April.
That’s perfect timing to celebrate National Caramel Popcorn Day on April 6. Perhaps popcorn day isn’t a celebratory holiday in your home but the recipes below just might change all of that with a caramel popcorn cupcake (yep, you read that right) and a spicy offering to replace movie night’s plain butter.
Mini Caramel Cupcakes with Salty Butter Frosting topped with Popcorn and Warm Caramel
makes 30 mini-cupcakes
This salty-sweet combination is perfect for mini-cupcakes that can be popped into your mouth just like the snack adorning their tops. Try to eat just one. Good luck!
For caramel cupcakes:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line mini-muffin pans with 30 paper liners.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. In a separate medium bowl, beat the butter and sugars together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until combined.
4. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Slowly stir in the buttermilk. Don’t overmix the batter.
5. Fill each cupcake liner to just below the top. Bake cupcakes for 18-20 minutes, until cupcake center springs back when pressed. Let the cupcakes cool before frosting.
For salty butter frosting:
- 1 stick unsalted butter,softened
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1. In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy.
2. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, salt and enough buttermilk to achieve desired consistency.
3. Frost cooled cupcakes.
For caramel and popcorn topping:
- 3 cups popped corn
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons half-and-half
1. Put 5-6 pieces of popcorn on top of each frosted cupcake, pushing each piece into the frosting a bit to hold it on.
2. Mix brown sugar, butter and half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium-low to medium heat. Cook while whisking gently for 3 to 5 minutes, until caramel thickens.
3. Drizzle warm caramel over popcorn-coated cupcakes. Enjoy, but try not to eat them all in one sitting!
With a kick of cayenne, this is a popcorn that bites back. It’s mildy addictive—you may need to double or triple the recipe to keep up with the demand.
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup popping corn kernels
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Mix first five ingredients (spices) in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Pour vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a high-sided pot (use more oil as needed to coat bottom fully). Add a few kernels to the pot and heat over medium until they start popping.
3. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels, one kernel deep, to the pot and shake lightly to coat kernels with oil. Cover the pot but open the lid vent or tilt the lid to allow air (but not the popcorn) to escape. This is the key to good crispy popcorn—trapping that steam in makes it soggy.
4. Pop until pot begins to fill and popping begins to slow. Move pot from heat; hot oil will pop remaining kernels.
5. Pour popcorn into bowl and drizzle melted butter over corn and toss. Sprinkle spice mix and toss again. Enjoy.