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Spicy Caramel Popcorn

Published March 2018

Why This Recipe Works

Caramel strikes fear even in experienced cooks. Why? It's notorious for burning, turning gritty, or simply cooking unevenly. We worked through every variable and question we had to come up with an easy method that anyone can master. The highlights: We cook the sugar with water and corn syrup, which helps the sugar dissolve and melt evenly and prevents crystallization, respectively. We use two heat levels, starting the sugar mixture over medium-high heat so that it melts quickly and then reducing the heat to low to provide a wider window for nailing the temperature. And we use two basic but key pieces of equipment: a heavy saucepan, which cooks the sugar evenly, and an instant-read thermometer, which is the fastest and most reliable way to assess the caramel's doneness. Once the caramel reaches between 365 and 375 degrees, we add butter, salt, cayenne, and baking soda, an alkaline ingredient that reacts with the acidic caramel. The reaction causes the caramel to increase in volume, making it easier to evenly coat the popcorn, and it creates tiny air bubbles that make the coating crisp and delicate—not hard—when it sets.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces) plus 2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Instructions

Makes about 3½ quarts

We prefer whole milk in this recipe, but 1 or 2 percent low-fat milk may be substituted. Do not substitute frozen cherries for the fresh cherries.

1. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions; place 12-inch skillet on lower rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and cut sides look dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer cherries to medium bowl, toss with lemon juice, and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl; dust flour mixture evenly over cherries and toss to coat thoroughly.

2. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.

3. Remove skillet (skillet handle will be hot) from oven and set on wire rack. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly). Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafouti puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle clafouti evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.

4. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions; place 12-inch skillet on lower rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and cut sides look dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer cherries to medium bowl, toss with lemon juice, and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl; dust flour mixture evenly over cherries and toss to coat thoroughly.

5. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.

6. Remove skillet (skillet handle will be hot) from oven and set on wire rack. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly). Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafouti puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle clafouti evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.

7. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions; place 12-inch skillet on lower rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and cut sides look dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer cherries to medium bowl, toss with lemon juice, and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl; dust flour mixture evenly over cherries and toss to coat thoroughly.

8. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.

9. Remove skillet (skillet handle will be hot) from oven and set on wire rack. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly). Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafouti puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle clafouti evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.

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