Thursday, June 26, 2014

Toffee Popcorn : Salted Caramel edition

I love cooking.

I love making interesting food, and am, in truth, proud of my own ability to put food forward of a good standard. I like making Heston Blumenthal dishes because I like nice food, and I like stretching myself.

This was not the day for that.

Inspired by Heston’s Salted Caramel Popcorn from Waitrose, I decided to give the Heston at Home Toffee Popcorn a go. We’re big fans of toffee popcorn in this house and I thought it was just the thing for a lazy Friday night. Sigh. Unfortunately, it sucked.

So this recipe is interesting:
  1. Make salted caramel, dry burn method.
  2.  Add oil, salt and bicarbonate of soda
  3.  Add popcorn to the caramel, cover
  4.  Take out caramel covered popcorn.
Sounds easy, enough, right?

Step one: Making salted caramel.

This uses a dry-burn technique, which I am fairly familiar with, as it is also used for the Salted Caramel icecream recipe I use. Dry-burn caramel means you put a whole lot of sugar in a pan, heat it up until it starts melting and then slowly push the un-melted sugar around until it is all melted.
Like this.

Unrefined caster sugar in a pan.
Heat without touching until it starts to melt on the edges.
Push it around until all the sugar is melted. Apologise for the blurry photo it was hard to take a picture and push around molten sugar at the same time. You can see almost all the lumps of sugar are gone here.
Here it is ready to go – all the sugar is melted and it is a nice caramel colour. Using an unrefined caster sugar seems to give a darker caramel than the white caster sugar I am used to.

Step two:

This reminds me of making Anzac biscuits, where you add butter. Here you add grapeseed oil.
Despite much whisking etc, I could not get the oil to amalgamate with the sugar. The recipe was unclear if this was supposed to happen or not, I gave up trying.
Add the salt.
Add the bicarbonate of soda. This immediately does what bicarbonate of soda does in anzac biscuits – fizzed up and increased the volume of everything.

Step three: Add the popcorn.

You can’t see it here, but the popcorn has been added. You then put the lid on and let it pop. The instructions then say wait until you hear it stop popping, so that is what I did. 

Step four: Take out caramel covered popcorn.

Be devastated when you realise that while the stuff on top looks okay… 

it’s burned.

As I worried, keeping caramel over heat to allow popcorn to pop in it tends to lead to…

burnt sugar.

Also, when you are standing, looking over the burnt popcorn, you may realise why putting POPcorn into hot, molten sugar is a bad idea. Because, in addition to burning easily, it may pop randomly when off the heat. Like when you open the lid and start to scoop it out. Pop up, hit you, and burn your nose. Go on, laugh, I’ll wait. (Sigh) I would show photographic proof but won’t scar you with human-burns photos. Only caramel equivalents.

Lessons learned

  • Burning caramel sucks. I had a small blister on my nose and a WEEK later, it is still healing. What  a stupid bloody idea to pop the corn in the caramel.
  • Don’t make this recipe (as written, anyway).  This would be the worst recipe fail I’ve had for a while. Damn. I was really looking forward to caramel popcorn too.

Guest opinions:

We did try some. The caramel was a good consistency, but mostly still tasted burned.  Also, you know how when you pop corn, some of it always stays unpopped? That ends up IN the caramel, hiding unseen for you to nearly break a tooth on.
We ended up throwing it all out. It made a huge amount too. Urgh.

Husband felt I should have dropped the temperature of the caramel down while the popcorn is in. Maybe this would have helped, but I really doubt it – for two reasons. The mix needs to stay hot enough to remain molten and pop the corn. And secondly, caramel will burn if not stirred. And you can’t stir it, because it is exploding balls of molten nose-burning mess. Really, I can’t get away from the silliness of the idea. Heston, you let me down. It really makes me wonder if anyone actually road-tested this recipes, truly.

Husband also noted that when good quality caramel popcorn is inexpensive (we’re looking at you, Lollygobbleblissbombs) -  why would you go to the trouble?

Next time:

If I was going to make this again, I would:
  • Air pop my popcorn in our popcorn popping machine. (Say that ten times fast).
  • Make the caramel.
  •  Maybe replace the oil with half the equivalent amount of butter. 
  • Add the salt and bicarb, mix it up
  •  Pour it over the popped corn.
  • Put it on a tray to cool and solidify.
I don’t know how important the oil is for the process given you are not popping the corn in the mix in this case. Given I’m familiar with butter rather than oil in caramels, maybe it is the amounts that are out of whack here. It was a lot of oil, and really didn’t want to combine.

Next: I'm not sure, I think I am still traumatised by the utter lack of success and caramel burns. 


  1. I tried this recipe once and 2 attempts at the other popcorn recipe on the same book page, failed all three times (exactly the same as your pictures for the same recipe, and other attempts always resulted in burn taste, but looked ok) these recipes are much harder to get right than they sound. Suspect temperature control is the key, but this is very tricky indeed.

  2. I always love how detailed your posts are, the step-by-step info and how its a guide for anyone else contemplating the recipe.

    And having tried this recipe myself I suffered every problem you did, damn-near ruined a pan and was put off makign popcorn the Heston-way for life!

    I've never ever actually made popcorn at home before or since. This was a woeful way to start. I've seen youtube videos for pressure-cooker and microwave methods, and I'd try any of those before I even considered the Heston method again. Like John says it's just very, very tricky!