If your nose doesn’t 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. It’s 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 won’t stick to your teeth the way caramel corn sometimes does.
If you’re 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 it’s made entirely on the stove. It’s 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 can’t 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. Don’t 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. It’s 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.
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