When the culinary intelligentsia and critics catalog the myriad culinary wonders produced by the American dessert-masters known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, the country fair-nosh known as “kettle corn” is consistently ignored. And that’s messed up because the idea of popping corn in a sugar syrup, which then forms a thin, candy coating perfectly balancing the texture and flavor of the corn (the exact salty/sweet gestalt that makes bacon bacon) is a profound expression of genius.
Temperature control is key and the eponymous vessel goes a long way toward making this miracle possible. As I don’t own a large copper kettle, I employ a slightly unorthodox method, which entails popping a small amount of corn and using that audible as a prompt to add the remaining kernels along with the sugar. It’s not an elegant hack, but it gets me where I want to go, back to the windy roads around Lancaster, Penn. Oh! And watch out for the buggies.
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 4 ounces mushroom popcorn kernels *
- 3 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- Place the oil and a few popcorn kernels in a 6-quart metal mixing bowl. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke 10 slits in the top with a knife.
- Place the bowl over medium-high heat and shake constantly using tongs to hold the bowl. Once the kernels pop, carefully add the remaining kernels, sugar and salt.
- Re-cover the bowl and return to medium high heat. Continue shaking constantly until the popcorn finishes popping, about 3 minutes.
- Remove the bowl from the heat and carefully remove the foil. Stir in the chili powder. Cool for 5 minutes before devouring.
- *There are essentially two varieties of popcorn: snowflake and mushroom. Mushroom popcorn pops smooth and round and kind of resemble the tops of mushrooms. I like this type for kettle corn because the smooth, firm texture provides a good surface for the candy coating to form. Snowflake varieties pop in crazy irregular shapes and tend to capture powdered flavorings well. They also take up more space when popped which is why snowflake varieties are the standard for movie theaters, circuses, ballparks, etc.
By © Alton Brown, Recipe and Images 2016ALTON BROWN https://altonbrown.com/
Where is kettle corn from?
I was first introduced to kettle corn during a Highlanders festival at college. I always assumed this meant it had a Scottish background, but come to find out, that’s not the case at all. It actually first appeared in Pennsylvania from Dutch settlers in the 18th century.
Flash forward a few hundred years and kettle corn has become an American staple at festivals and fairs, regardless of origin or occasion.
What kind of pan to use for stovetop popcorn
This recipe hinges on being cooked on the stovetop, and in order to do that, you need the “right” pan. I know this because I’ve tried using the “wrong” pan in the past and it was a total disaster.
You can always shell out the money for a special popcorn popper, but in almost all cases, that’s not necessary. In fact, I’ll bet you probably already have a perfect pan for popping popcorn hidden in the back of your pantry.
So, what pan should you use? Look for something that fits these requirements:
- A wide, shallow pan, like a high-sided skillet. I haven’t had as much success with deep pots like stockpots and saucepans.
- The thinner (and in some ways, the cheaper) the pan, the better. Don’t be like me and whip out your deluxe dutch oven. When cooking stovetop popcorn, and especially kettle corn, you want something that will transfer heat fast and be easy to lift.
- A pan with a glass lid would be ideal so you can watch the progress of the popcorn and the color of the sugar.
How long does kettle corn last?
In most cases, homemade kettle corn should last for up to two to three weeks when stored in an airtight container.
You can also store it “fair style” in a plastic bag, but this can limit the freshness to one week. You can never be 100% sure that there isn’t a hole in the bag, no matter how small, and that can impact the shelf life. So if longevity is your goal, store it in a hard plastic container (or something similar) with a sealable lid.
Notes & tips for kettle corn popcorn
- I mentioned this before, but I can’t stress it enough – make sure you’re using a good pop for popping popcorn. See the notes above for my tips.
- If you don’t already have one, you’ll need an extra large bowl to transfer the cooked kettle popcorn to.
Homemade Kettle Corn
The best part about this …. it’s microwaveable! Oh yeah!!
I have a serious addiction to the homemade kettle corn.
Did you see me popcorn kernel wreath… see, it’s a real problem ; )
I like the stuff you buy at the grocery store (in a box) but it just isn’t the same as the stuff you get from say… a pumpkin patch. Yes, we went to a pumpkin patch, and ever since I CRAVE that homemade kettle corn! You just can’t get the same thing out of a box So what do us handy dandy DIY girls do?
We figure out how to do it ourselves, and in my case, the quickest way possible!
It is really quite easy. Following the recipe below, you just mix your ingredients, put in a paper lunch bag, and put it in the microwave.
Easy right? Oh yes it is, and extremely addicting, I make this way more than I need too!
In searching online for those perfect round style popcorn (you know, when it looks like a perfect little ball) I found that you will need to use the “mushroom popcorn kernels” I can only find them online, so if you happen to have those and try this recipe, please let me know because I love those!!! They are such cute little round balls of bliss!
Just a few notes I’d like to stress when making this: -You don’t want your brown sugar to clump or it gets stuck on a few kernels, which isn’t as tastey as it sounds ; ) -A few of the popcorn kernels will get coated in the brown sugar, just don’t eat those (it’s on a few) -Make sure you shake your kernels enough so they are flat across the bag when microwaving -This recipe is NOT meant to taste the same as the popcorn that you buy at kettle corn stants, but it is a nice tasty substitute,
remember… we are doing this in the microwave ; )
- ¼ cup popcorn kernels
- 1½ TBS sugar
- 1½ TBS brown sugar
- 3½ TBS vegetable oil
- Mix your popcorn kernels, sugar, and brown sugar in a small bowl.
- Make sure the brown sugar does not have any clumps
- stir until mixed well
- Add vegetable oil
- Stir until all blended (refer to photo)
- Pour mixture into a paper lunch sack (the kind you buy at the grocery store
- Fold the top closed and put on a plate on it's side (the wide flat side) – please note the oil will leak through so you will definitely want the plate!
- Slide the plate (with popcorn bag on top of it) from side to side to level out all the popcorn kernels
- Microwave approx 2 min.
Cook time will vary. I follow the general rule, once you don't hear a pop for 2 seconds, it's time to take it out.
Ashley is a stay at home mom to three beautiful children. She and her husband recently settled in the Midwest after spending the beginning of their marriage in Texas (what a change!). Together they are raising their children, and turning their house into a home one project at a time. Ashley enjoys decorating and crafting, but her true passion lies in redoing old furniture and making things look old.
Step 1: Heat oil in pan on medium, add a couple of kernels.Step 2: When they start to pop, add the rest of the kernels.Step 3: Keep the pot moving (actual vigorous shaking back on forth over the burner) so they don’t burn.Step 4: As soon as those kernels start to pop, add the maple syrup and shake it all in.Step 5: When the kernels are all popped, dump the popcorn out into a bowl, add salt, and stir it up.
Step 6: Make sure to sneak a few handfuls before serving, ‘cuz this stuff doesn’t last long!
Beth is the creator here at Red & Honey. Mom of four, wife of one, and proud redhead. Sushi and tex-mex lover, fan of adventure, books, natural health talk, and pyjamas. INFP and Type 4 enneagram. Allergic to small talk. And, if you haven't figured it out already, #nerd. Read more posts by Beth.
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