It has been very, very cold in San Antonio these past few days, and nothing suits a chilly afternoon at home better than homemade popcorn. I love my Whirly-Pop for making authentic popcorn. The entire experience reeks of old fashioned goodness, from the toasty aroma to the sound of exploding kernels, and the sensations of turning a crank over a low flame to keep the kernels from burning. It is all very fulfilling. When I was growing up this was the only kind of popcorn my mom would make, often on Friday nights to accompany a movie with the family. I remember sometimes feeling unlucky, because all the other kids got to have the saturated flavor of microwave popcorn, and I always had to eat the homemade stuff. But now that I am older and wiser with a more developed palate, I realize what a special and unique experience it was to eat fresh popcorn, served hot from popper and drizzled with real butter. It is a treat I now like to share with my friends who grew up on the microwave popcorn. Thanks Mom.
Monday was Martin Luther King Day and I woke up early to take part in the San Antonio Martin Luther King Jr. March with my radio station. We broadcast jazz along the parade route, marched with the group, and in general supported the cause. It was cold and rainy. Or to put it in a glass-half-full context, rather it was popcorn weather. So after the march and a long hot shower, I settled into my apartment to make popcorn. I have been eying a recipe for maple pecan popcorn for weeks and knew it was the time to try it.
Sadly, I do not have a candy thermometer, so I hypothesized instead that I could use my eyes to gauge the "doneness" of the carmelizing maple syrup. I was wrong. The recipe suggested the maple syrup should boil for 10 to 15 minutes to reach 300 degrees, so I put it on the stove and alternated watching the pot with readying other things. It went something like this: glance at the pot and things look good, measure out the popcorn, glance at the pot and things look good, wipe up the counter, glance at the pot and things look good, put the butter back in the fridge, glance at the pot and all of a sudden things look baaaaaaaaaad.
Somewhere in the span of 20 seconds my entire pot of beautiful boiling maple syrup went from a lovely golden brown caremel to a smoking black blob. Whoops. This blob then managed to congeal into a sticky rock hard block in my non-stick pan. Oddly enough, it stuck.
Without any more maple syrup, I defaulted to plan B and whipped up a batch of caramel corn, followed by a batch of Parmesan cheesy corn. The evidence of my successful second attempt is pictured here. I will re-try the maple popcorn recipe this weekend, perhaps accompanied by a good foreign film or artsy movie.
Mmmmmmm, popcorn. Such a feel good experience (when nothing burns).
Maple Pecan Popcorn from Gourmet magazine
1 cup pecans (3 1/2 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
About 8 cups plain popcorn
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Special equipment: a candy thermometer
Toss together pecans and popcorn in a large bowl.
Line a large shallow baking pan with foil, then lightly oil foil and a wooden spoon.
Melt butter in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add syrup and salt, then boil, without stirring, until mixture registers 300°F on thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.
Pour syrup over pecans and popcorn, stirring briskly with oiled spoon to coat. Immediately spread popcorn in baking pan. Cool completely, then break into bite-size pieces.