A long, long time ago, I tried out an absolutely fantastic recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for popcorn cookies. I loved them (and everyone who ate one did too), but even a the time I couldn’t help but wonder what else I could do with this idea. Namely, how could I work caramel corn into the equation?
Well. We all know peanuts and caramel corn are a good combination (Cracker Jacks, anyone?), and if you have never sprinkled M&Ms through your popcorn at the movies you are definitely missing out, so here we are. Peanut butter cookies, caramel corn, and M&Ms. Perfect for sneaking into the theatre with you next time you go…if you can hold off on eating them long enough to get there.
(Loosely adapted from Smitten Kitchen.)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1. Coat two rubber spatulas, a very large mixing bowl, and 2 baking sheets with cooking spray or a thin layer of vegetable oil.
2. Pop the kernels. If you’re lucky enough to own an air popper, use that, otherwise use a large saucepan with a glass lid. Pour a thin layer (a few tablespoons) of vegetable oil on the bottom and heat over medium-high heat. To see if the pan’s ready, put one kernel in, put the lid on, and wait. When it pops, take it out and pour the rest of the popping corn in. Cover and shake the pot back and forth over the heat until the kernels have all popped. This should take about five minutes.
3. Remove from heat and pour the popcorn into the prepared bowl. Sift out any unpopped kernels.
4. Make the caramel. In a medium saucepan, heat sugar, butter, salt, and 1/2 cup water over medium-high heat. Swirl periodically to mix, but do not stir. The mixture will froth up as it cooks, which makes it a bit hard to tell when it’s done. You’re looking for a very light golden caramel color, which should occur about 10-15 minutes in. If you’re not sure if it’s done, dip a spoon in and test a little bit. But be careful not to burn yourself.
5. As soon as the caramel’s done, remove from heat and whisk in baking soda. Careful, it will bubble up. Pour over the popcorn and immediately (but, again, careful not to burn yourself) start mixing. Use the spatulas – you want a motion like you’re tossing a salad, and you want the caramel coating the popcorn as evenly as possible. Be extra careful of the bottom of the mixing bowl – all of the caramel will try to go there and harden.
6. As soon as the caramel’s mixed in, pour the caramel corn out on to the two prepared baking sheets. Break up into small bits (individual kernels when possible) as it cools. If your caramel is really uneven or you’re a perfectionist, I’m told you can cook the trays on low heat to distribute the caramel better. I can’t speak to this, as I decided mine was good enough as it was, but for more information try here. Otherwise just break up as best you can and let cool for about 15 minutes.
Movie Theatre Cookies
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
125 grams M&Ms (I used the plain ones, but I bet peanut would be tasty here too.)
6 cups (yes, 6!) caramel corn (if you use the recipe above, you will probably have some extra. You can try to mix it all in if you like, but I recommend eating the leftovers instead.)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 Celsius) and line a cookie sheet (or two) with baking parchment.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
3. In a very large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and peanut butter until smooth and thoroughly combined.
4. Add both sugars and beat until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.
5. Beat in the egg thoroughly. Add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined.
6. Now for the fun part! Fold in the M&Ms and caramel corn. I highly recommend using your hands – you’ll want to start with a wooden spoon, probably, but after a point it’ll just be easier.
7. Form the dough into balls, doing your best to make sure you have a good distribution of M&Ms and caramel corn in each. I made mine about the size of a golf ball and baked them eight to a sheet. Flatten each cookie and sprinkle with sea salt, then bake until golden, about 8-11 minutes. Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.