The Best Caramel Popcorn Recipe Ever!

I'm going to keep it short this week, after the emotional intensity of the Boston Marathon tragedy and the Jason Bourne-style manhunt. But before I jump straight into a recipe for caramel popcorn, I want to share a link to this story from the Associated Press.

It's not about the Tsarnaev brothers, and there's nothing incredibly sensational about it. In fact, this article has been posted on ABC News, Yahoo News, Newsday, and various other local sites; yet, it's only garnered a small fraction of the tweets, shares, and likes that most stories about the marathon generated. It's a collection of anecdotes -- brief glimpses -- into the lives of those who survived the marathon, but were forever changed because they lost limbs, or a significant portion of their hearing.

Some of these people started funding campaigns and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than a week. Below is a picture of Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, a mother and daughter who are both in the hospital as I write this. Celeste (the mother) lost both of her legs below the knee, and Sydney suffered severe injuries from being hit by shrapnel. If you click on their picture, it will take you to their funding site where you can donate, read updates, and hear more of their stories. My hope, now that the bad guys have been caught, is that the media and the nation will shift their attention to these 170 plus people who need our support and encouragement more than ever.

In the meantime, I present you with Thomas Keller's Caramel Popcorn recipe from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. You might have noticed I'm calling it "the best caramel popcorn recipe ever" and I am totally serious. Take one bite into the buttery, sugary, saltiness, and I guarantee you'll be addicted. It's far from the healthiest thing you'll ever eat, but it's easy to make, and it works well as an occasional treat.

The Best Caramel Popcorn Recipe. Ever.

Raw popcorn kernels        1/2 cup (once popped, this should make a total of 10 cups)
Canola oil                         4 Tbsp.
Raw, salted Peanuts          225 grams, or 1 1/2 cups
Water                               112 grams, or 1/2 cup
Granulated sugar               225 grams, or 1 cup
Brown sugar                     112 grams, or 1/2 cup
Light corn syrup                100 grams, or 1/4 cup
Unsalted butter                  5 Tbsp., or 1/2 cube + 1 Tbsp.        
Baking soda                      9 grams, or 2 tsp.                  
Kosher salt                       13 grams, or 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.

If you've got a popcorn machine, then hooray for you! Go ahead and skip these first few steps. If you don't have a popcorn machine, we're going to have to do this the old fashioned way:

Get out a really large pot with a lid -- like, the kind you would use for making soup. Cover the bottom with canola oil, then place 3 popcorn kernels inside. Place it on the stove at medium heat, put the lid on top, and wait until all 3 of the kernels start to pop.

Take the pan off the heat, add the remaining popcorn kernels, stir them around to make sure they're in an even layer along the bottom, then cover the pan for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, the kernels should all be roughly the same temperature, and will therefore pop more evenly. (The goal here is for all of them to pop and for none of them to burn.)

Place the pot back on the stove and wait for all the kernels to pop. Turn off the heat, uncover, and dump the majority of the popcorn (around 8 cups worth) into a very large bowl. Set the other two cups aside, and move on to making the caramel.

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the peanuts in an even layer on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Combine the water, sugars, corn syrup, and butter in a large, nonstick sauce pan. Melt over medium heat, and stir frequently with a wooden spoon. If you've got a candy thermometer that reads really high temperatures, (mine doesn't seem to, so I've kind of given up on it . . .) wait until the thermometer reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit and then remove it from the stove. Otherwise, wait about 11 minutes -- until the mixture is nice and gooey and bubbly -- then assume it's about the right temp and remove it.

Take caution as you stir in the salt and baking powder, as the caramel mixture will get super frothy and expand towards the top of the sauce pan. Next, add the peanuts, and  pour the entire mixture on top of the popcorn. Add the remaining 2 cups of popcorn, then use 2 wooden spoons -- both coated in nonstick cooking spray -- to mix the everything until it's evenly coated.

* NOTE: I used the biggest bowl I owned, and it still wasn't quite big enough to mix the popcorn properly, so I coated a cookie sheet in nonstick cooking spray, and dumped the popcorn on top of that. I also wore a pair of latex gloves, as TK (Thomas Keller) recommends, and mixed the popcorn by hand on top of the cookie sheet, pulling apart clumps, and ensuring an even caramel coating. The mixing is probably the toughest part of this recipe, but heat-resistant gloves are the key to doing it well.

Bon appetit!

Chocolate-Dipped Madeleine Recipe

The spongy, cake-like madeleine is a delicate cookie that derives from France. People have been dipping them in coffee or tea for centuries, all the while arguing over their exact history. No one knows precisely which real-life Madeleine made them or inspired them, but there are several competing stories of women named Madeleine who have served them to both kings and paupers alike.

Those who know a thing or two about the cookies may also tell you that a French author named Marcel Proust wrote about them in his novel, A Remembrance of Things Past. Since I've never read Proust, I don't really make that association when I hear the word madeleine. Instead, I am tempted to make another literary connection -- a decidedly less highbrow one -- of a book my mom used to read to me with cartoon illustrations on the cover of young girls who lived in Paris. They walked in "two straight lines" and wore matching yellow hats that were as bright and as round as the sun. 

This book was called Madeline and I asked my mom to read it to me tens of hundreds of times. I loved the story of this eponymous little girl because she was fearless and because she got to live next door to the Eiffel Tower, which was just about the coolest thing ever.

Even as a child, I sought refuge and inspiration through stories. I've been an English major and an English teacher and until the past year or so, I've always been a voracious reader, plowing through memoirs and novels as though they were my lifeline.

But this year, without even realizing it, I've been so busy and distracted and worried about my future that I haven't carved out space for reading books. I read blog posts and emails and news reports and recipes, but books have been demoted to a frivolous sort of hobby. Nothing I have time for in this frenzied life.

I forgot how much I missed them until this past week when my boyfriend gave me a book for my birthday. It's called Blood, Bones, & Butter and it's the memoir of a chef and restaurateur named Gabrielle Hamilton. It's pages contain some of the most magical storytelling I've encountered in ages. She writes of fireflies and lamb roasts, and spilled martinis in New York City dive bars. It's a book about survival, experimentation, and messy family ties. Reading it has renewed my spirit and reminded me that stories are something I need to make time for. They're more than a hobby; they're vital.

In a nostalgic sort of way, madeleine cookies give me that same reminder, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed making them this week. I hope they can be inspirational for you too -- in whatever way you may be needing it.

Chocolate-Dipped Madeleines
(adapted from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook)

All-purpose flour       68 grams, or 1//2 cup
Baking powder         2.2 grams, or 1/2 tsp.
Kosher salt               1/4 tsp.
Eggs                         2
Granulated sugar       55 grams, or 1/4 cup + 1 tsp.
Unsalted butter          1/2 cube, or 4 Tbsp.
(at room temp)
Brown sugar             9 grams, or 2 tsp.
Clover honey            9 grams, or 1 1/4 tsp.
Lemon zest               1/4 tsp.
Melted Chocolate     3 ounces

Combine the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl, then whisk in the salt.

In a separate bowl, blend together the eggs and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high, and then whip for 4 more minutes until the color lightens and the batter doubles in volume.

Heat the butter, brown sugar, and honey in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Whisk to dissolve the sugar and blend everything together, then remove from the heat. This should only take about 1 minute, or so.

Take your flour mixture and fold half of it in with the egg and sugar mixture. (Check out this YouTube video if you need help with folding.) Once that has been evenly combined, fold in the other half of the dry ingredients using the same process, then add the warm butter mixture and the lemon zest. Keep folding the batter until it becomes smooth. Cover the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If using a nonstick madeleine pan, simply coat it with nonstick cooking spray. If using a pan that isn't nonstick, you'll need to thoroughly butter and flour it to keep the batter from sticking. Either way, after you've prepared your pan, place it in the freezer for about 10 minutes to get it extra cold.

Use a cookie scoop to section small amounts of the cold batter (about 1 tablespoon) into the madeleine molds. Bake them for 8-9 minutes until the tops are lightly browned. Remove them from the pan immediately after taking them out of the oven and allow them to cool completely.

While they're cooling, you can use this time to melt the chocolate (if you're choosing to dip them in chocolate). Use your favorite type of chocolate chips -- milk, dark, semi-sweet -- and place them in a small sauce pan. Get out a large frying pan and cover the bottom of it with a generous layer of water. Place the frying pan on the stove top, and place the sauce pan in the middle of the frying pan so that the sauce pan is sitting in the pool of water. Turn the stove on to medium high, and continually stir the chocolate as it melts. Keep a close eye on the water in the pan below because you don't want it to start boiling, as it may get too hot and burn the chocolate.

Once the chocolate is fully melted and the cookies have cooled, line a tray with parchment paper, and take turns dipping each cookie in chocolate and placing the dipped cookie on the parchment paper. Wait until the chocolate has re-hardened, then enjoy!

Raspberry Macaron Recipe

Of all the vices and time sucks the internet often presents, the one I've best managed to avoid all these years is YouTube. Don't ask me how. I've heard the rumors of adorable cat videos and funky dance routines performed by Korean rappers that become so popular, they spark national phenomenons. But, I've never felt compelled to log onto YouTube just to watch any of it. Instead, I'm driven to the website for more utilitarian reasons.

Earlier this week, I couldn't figure out how to make a decent batch of macarons, and I thought maybe -- just maybe -- YouTube could help me out with this. Perhaps there was a tutorial somewhere? A step-by-step guide that could visually take me through the process?

It turns out there was. And not only that, but after watching a video for raspberry macarons, I was soon compelled to click on another video for making almond flour, which led to one for white chocolate panna cotta and bahn mi sandwiches and bourbon chicken and homemade ice cream.

Dear God, was I ever sucked in! They got me. They finally got me . . .

In the midst of all this culinary inspiration, I did manage to pry my eyes away from the computer and make a batch of raspberry macarons. I chose the one video I found most helpful (link included below), and followed it's instructions to the letter.

When I finished, the cookies still weren't perfect in my eyes. Some were oddly shaped and some started to crack after I assembled them because the exterior shell is extremely delicate, but everyone who ate them agreed they tasted wonderful. And that made me happy.

Raspberry Macarons
(Adapted Slightly from Entertaining With Beth)

Egg whites              3
Granulated sugar    50 grams, or 1/4 cup
Powdered sugar     200 grams, or 2 cups
Almond flour          120 grams, or 1 cup
pinch of salt
Cream of tartar      1/4 tsp.
Red food coloring  (several drops)

Take the eggs out of the fridge and submerge them in warm water for 5 minutes. This brings them to room temperature and makes them easier to work with. Next, separate the egg whites, add them to the bowl of a stand mixer along with the salt and cream of tartar, and whip them for 8-10 minutes on low-medium speed.

Turn the speed up to medium-high and gradually pour in small amounts of the granulated sugar. Continue whipping until the egg whites form soft peaks. Then add the food coloring and whip until it reaches the desired color, and a lava-like texture.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Get out a large bowl and combine the powdered sugar and almond flour. Run the mixture through a mesh sieve to remove any large chunks, and then fold half the almond flour mixture in with the egg whites using a spatula. Once the mixture looks evenly combined, add the other half of the almond flour mixture and fold it in.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag and pipe out 1-inch rounds of batter onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Tap the cookie sheets against the counter top to release any air bubbles that may have formed, then let them sit at room temperature for a minimum of 20 minutes before placing them in the oven. (This is crucial because it helps the macarons create a light, flaky shell along the top.)

Next, bake one sheet of cookies at a time for 17-20 minutes. Wait for them to cool completely.

Raspberry Buttercream

Salted butter           1 cube
(at room temp)
Powdered sugar     75 grams, or 3/4 cup
Frozen raspberries  150 grams, or 1 cup

While you're baking the macarons, or letting them sit at room temperature, use the down time to make the buttercream filling. Whip the butter until it has the consistency of mayonnaise, then whip in the powdered sugar.

Place the raspberries in a mesh sieve, and place the sieve over a bowl. Use a spoon to smash the raspberries and work them through the sieve until you've extracted 3 tablespoons worth of raspberry juice.

Add only the juice to the butter and sugar mixture, and whip until it's all combined.

Transfer the buttercream to a pastry bag, flip one half of the macarons over, and pipe small amounts of buttercream on the flat part of each macaron that's been turned over. Very gently top it with the other half of the macarons -- creating a sandwich -- OR utilize the mashed up raspberries that are left over in the sieve and add tiny spoonfuls to the center of the cookie for an extra raspberry burst.

And here's the video if you'd like further help. Happy baking!