KitchenTigress: Butterscotch Popcorn

Butterscotch Popcorn

To make corn pop, the moisture in the kernel must be heated and turned into steam. When the steam builds up enough pressure, it bursts through the wall of the kernel, creating popcorn.

The heat mustn't be too strong or the outside of the kernel would harden and stop the corn from exploding. It mustn't be too gentle either or the steam would leak out of the kernel and not explode.
You can pop corn on the stove or in a microwave. Is there another way? Oh yes, there is, in a cannon! That is, I swear, the coolest way to make corn pop.

Popcorn may be American in origin but a Chinese wok is perfect for making it. A wide, deep and hot wok is ideal for tossing popcorn with caramel because there's lots of space and the sugar stays liquid.

If you don't have a wok, or a very big pot, you'd have to toss the popcorn and caramel in a mixing bowl. Because the bowl can't be heated on the stove, the caramel cools down very quickly. A dark caramel would turn hard too fast, so you have to use a light coloured caramel that stays liquid when it's cold. After the popcorn is coated with pale, soggy sugar, it's baked in the oven till the caramel is well browned. That's how wokless Americans do it, the long way.

Have you noticed a Chinese spatula is quite different from its western cousin? The triangular part is wider, longer, and has a raised edge along the two sides on the inside. The design is made for stir-frying meat and veggies efficiently, so popcorn and sugar fit right in. Why? Because they're both vegetables. Yup, corn is a vegetable, and so is sugar since it's made from beets. Vegetables are good for you, you know?

With homemade popcorn, you can adjust the sweetness to your preference. If you don't have a sweet tooth, go for a deeper shade of brown when you're making the caramel. If you do, aim for a lighter shade. Don't change the amount of sugar because any excess will just be left in the wok if there's too much, and the popcorn won't be crunchy if there's too little.

Don't forget to add some salt to the popcorn. With a big pinch, the caramel would be sweet but not sickly sweet. Or you might like more salt so that the popcorn tastes both sweet and savoury. A bit of cinnamon powder wouldn't hurt, I'm sure. Hey, how about cheese powder, five-spice powder, curry leaves, paprika, chilli flakes . . .

Customized coffee is so yesterday, you know? Let's customize popcorn!

How to make butterscotch popcorn

Step-by-step guide

Netflix in style with homemade butterscotch popcorn. You can have the whole cinema experience at home, without wearing a mask.

butterscotch popcorn
  • 150 g corn
  • 185 g sugar
  • 40 g unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp toasted peanuts – grind till fine to yield 5 tbsp
  • ¼ tsp salt

  1. Put corn in warm wok that's 30 cm wide or bigger. Stir 2 minutes over low heat. Spread corn evenly in 1 layer. Cover and wait 1 minute. Check if there's water under the cover. Wipe dry with paper towels if there is. Wait another 3-4 minutes, till corn starts to pop. When popping starts, increase heat to medium. When popping slows down, turn off heat. Wait till popping stops completely. Transfer corn to a bowl.
  2. Clean wok with paper towel. Pour sugar into wok. Over medium heat, cook till sugar starts to melt. Swirl wok to heat evenly, till melted sugar is brown like dark honey. Reduce heat to low. Add butter and ground peanuts. Stir till thoroughly mixed. Add salt and stir through.
  3. Tip popcorn into wok. Caramel may now thicken because popcorn is cold or at most warm. Increase heat to medium-low to keep caramel liquid. Toss till corn is evenly coated. Turn off heat. Transfer popcorn to a bowl. Break into small pieces. Taste and sprinkle with more salt if necessary. Serve immediately or keep in airtight container.