Cayenne Caramel Popcorn

Today, March 1st, was a big BIG day.  It was National Pancake Day.  It was National Peanut Butter Lovers Day (and the start of National Peanut Month).  And it was the start of National Nutrition Month.  Pancakes, peanuts, and nutrition are three things that are very dear to my heart.  (If today had also been National Diet Coke Day I probably would have just taken the day off.)

In retrospect, I should have made you some whole grain peanut butter pancakes to honor all three occasions at once.

Oops.  What’s that saying?  Hindsight is always 20/20?

Would you like some Cayenne Caramel Popcorn instead?  It’s difficult to say no to popcorn, as evidenced by the gigantic tubs of popcorn sold at movie theaters.  It’s even harder to say no to caramel, and if you like spicy things, a little cayenne can be a beautiful thing.

Basically, yes, you would like some.  And I won’t charge you $18 like they do at the movies.  If you wanted to pay me though, I would probably – ok, definitely – accept your moneys.  I’m going to medical school next year, remember?  These things don’t just pay for themselves.

Let’s stop beating around the bush.  Let me just outline the creation of this popcorn.

1.  I realized that buying popcorn kernels in bulk at Market Street costs about 1/37 (disclaimer: no math was involved in this post) of buying microwave popcorn.  Plus, less packaging.  How did I not know about this??  I spend approximately 13 minutes in the bulk foods section every time I go grocery shopping.
2.  I like spicy food.  I also like sweet food.  I like spicy sweet food.  (Chocolate with chiles = case in point.)  This theory that if two things are good separately they’re good together doesn’t always work, but this time, it did.
3. I knew Brown Eyed Baker would be able to walk me through the steps of making homemade popcorn on the stove.  And I knew Emeril wouldn’t fail me with his recipe for spiced nuts.  So I combined these two recipes to make one glorious sweet, salty, spicy snack (dessert?  not sure) food.

I made a couple changes to Emeril’s recipe, but not too many.  I added a little chile powder and 86’d the cinnamon.  I probably should have cut back on the cayenne just a touch…I’ll post the amount I included, and a suggestion for how much I would use next time.  Other than that, it’s all pretty basic.  Make popcorn.  Make a quick spicy brown sugar caramel.  Pour that over the popcorn.  Let it harden.  Put it in your face.  Repeat the last step.

Cayenne Caramel Popcorn

Makes about 3 quarts of popped popcorn

For popcorn
3 TBS canola (or other neutral) oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup popcorn kernels

For cayenne caramel
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cayenne (I’ll probably use 1/4 tsp next time)
1/4 tsp chile powder
4 TBS unsalted butter
6 TBS light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp salt
1 TBS water

1.  For popcorn – Put the oil in a large, heavy saucepan and add the popcorn kernels.  Sprinkle the salt over the kernels and shake the pot a little to evenly distribute the oil and kernels.  Place a lid over the pot, leaving it slightly open to let steam escape, and place the pot over medium heat.  Let it get nice and steamy, and magic will start to happen!  Keep the pot over medium heat until the popping slows almost to a stop (you’ll also be able to see that almost all of the kernels have popped).

2.  Remove the pot from the heat, take off the lid, and look!  You have fully popped, fluffy, non-greasy popcorn!

3.  You have a choice here.  You can add butter and salt and eat it as it is.  Or you can be a true champion and keep going.  Nobody likes a quitter.
4.  For cayenne caramel – In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and stir to combine, cooking until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.  Add the cumin, cayenne, chile powder, and salt and stir to combine.  Add the water carefully (it will bubble like caramel tends to do, like this), and cook for 1 more minute.

5.  Remove caramel from heat and pour over the popcorn.  Toss the popcorn to coat evenly with caramel.  (It’s important to pour and toss while the caramel is still hot, so it’s thin and easy to work with.)  Pour onto a foil-lined baking sheet and spread evenly.  Let cool and harden.  Since it’s so gosh darn humid in north Texas (in March?!!?), mine didn’t harden fully until the second day.  By no means did this stop me from eating it after a couple of hours.

Recipes adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and Emeril (via Food Network)

This popcorn has multiple uses.  Afternoon snack.  Midnight snack.  Gifts.  Movie watching (sneaking it into movie theaters?).  Dessert.  Appetizer.  Cocktail accompaniment.  Need I say more to convince you to make this?  Was this an acceptable post instead of whole grain peanut butter pancakes?  (Who are we kidding, how long do you really think I can hold off before making some of those?  Not long.)  Thanks for reading, happy baking – and popcorn-making!



  1. I love spicy food and spicy popcorn makes for a very nice snack. I saw your Red Velvet brownie post which reminded me of the Spicy Brownies I’ve made (using cayenne). Try it sometime :o)

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