My youngest sister is a kindergarten teacher. I tell you this because it will help to explain the sentence that comes next. For my mom’s 82nd birthday, she organized a sleepover party. Mom’s 6 children, assorted spouses, and 14 grandchildren were all invited over to mom’s for the night, complete with pajamas and sleeping bags.Such a momentous occasion called for an epic party snack. I knew immediately what I wanted to bring ….Chicago popcorn. In case you’ve never heard of it, Chicago popcorn is a mix of caramel corn and cheddar cheese popcorn.That sweet-salt combo is delicious and highly addictive.
I started with the cheddar popcorn first. Most of the recipes I found online called for a mixture of cheddar cheese powder, dried mustard and a pinch of cayenne. Melted butter was the instrument of choice for getting all that powder to stick. In the midst of all these similar recipes, there was one that stood out like a beacon, calling to me. It was the headline of this one that got my attention. “Alton’s convinced he’s “cracked the code” on the cheesy dust found on Cheetos.”
Cheetos are my guilty pleasure. But not all Cheetos are created equal. Alton Brown put it much more eloquently than I ever could, “The best flavor on earth is that of crunchy Cheetos. Not the regular ones. They’re crap. Just the crunchies.”
If Alton Brown could recreate that flavour to put on popcorn, I needed to learn the secret. The first ingredient is the requisite cheddar cheese powder, which you can buy at Bulk Barn, or online, or just rip open a bag of the powder that comes in the box of KD. In addition, Alton includes buttermilk powder, nutritional yeast and Kraft parmesan cheese (that stuff in the green can). Those last 2 ingredients are real umami bombs.For the caramel corn, I started out with my favourite caramel corn recipe (minus the nuts). When I tasted it with the cheddar popcorn, the texture was all wrong. It was way too hard. I did a quick online search and learned from Sally, that a tiny bit of baking soda added at the end of the cooking process will cause the mixture to foam up. This foam contains thousands of carbon dioxide bubbles. Once the caramel is poured over the popcorn and cooled, the trapped air bubbles create a softer texture. So you won’t break a tooth.
I slightly adapted the caramel corn recipe from the charming blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction.