My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home


Alinea Recipe, pages 372-373.

This drink, served warm in a shot glass, is the sweet, buttery essence of a caramel popcorn ball. It’s that sticky treat your Aunt always used to make in the summer. Deconstructed. Presented in another form. From sticky-crunchy to smooth-and-creamy — it’s delicious!

And since this is a fun and simple Alinea recipe to make, I asked my daughter Olivia to guest blog. I measured everything out and whisked the hot caramel, but she did everything else. So here’s her story…

Popcorn Broth
First we made some popcorn. To make this you dont need a fancy popcorn maker, but just a plain old pot and some canola oil (and, well of course, some kernels).

I used Jolly Time organic popcorn.

So, in our pot we heated the oil until lightly smoking. Then we added a couple kernels to let us know when the oil was hot enough. But I didn’t read the part about covering the pot, so when the test kernels popped, I jumped — with all the other non-popped kernels in hand — and spilled all of them onto the floor. This tells you to always STAY CALM WHILE KERNELS ARE POPPING!

After remeasuring and everything else, we added the rest of the kernels and covered the pot. While the kernels are popping you’ll want to shake the pot so that every kernel can pop.

Mise en place:

My Dad measured out the right amount of popcorn to add, and in another pot, I combined the popped corn, salt, butter, sugar and water.

I brought it to a simmer over medium heat and let simmer for 5 minutes.

At this point, it will sorta look like baby barf. Don’t be worried about eating it, its actually really good.

Once I got back after watching Bobby Flay’s Throwdown for 5 minutes, and the baby-barf-like-looking mush had simmered, I strained it through a chinois. (The book says to strain it through a china cap, we didn’t have one.) And smushed all the juices out of the mushy popcorn as much as possible.

Then I blended it on high speed for about three minutes, strained it one more time, and transfered it to a glass measuring cup.

Keep the popcorn broth warm.

Canola oil
Jolly Time organic popcorn
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Challenge unsalted butter
C&H cane sugar

Caramel Froth
In a small saucepan, I heated the sugar and about a third of the water over medium heat until it reached 340ºF. I measured the temperature with our new Taylor candy thermometer purchased at Ace Hardware for the small amount of US$4.99. (While I wrote this I said it like an announcer, I suggest doing the same.)

Once the mixture of sugar and water looked like caramel and had reached the correct temperature, I removed it from the heat.

Immediately after, I asked my Dad to add the rest of the water and simple syrup. It splattered all over — like the lavas of Kilauea — so beware!

My Dad whisked it like a madman [ed. note: I am a madman!] until all the ingredients were dissolved.

After doing all this, I poured the mixture into a tall and narrow container — in our case the tall narrow container was my Dad’s lucky Padres cup. GO PADRES!

I let this cool down until it was just warm.

But don’t stick your finger in it, or else you’ll end up with a Band-Aid on your finger like me. (It’s 340ºF! Duh.) Even how tempted you are to taste the beautifuly gleaming caramel sauce, DON’T!

After the caramel sauce had cooled, I added the soy lecithin and blended it with the immersion blender like there was no tomorrow.

Ow. Note: bandaged finger.

This might take awhile, but if you tip the container slightly and tip the blender the other way so that the caramel sauce comes out of one of the immersion blender tip’s holes, it will make the foaming process go much quicker.

Now our liquefied caramel popcorn was just one step closer to eating!

C&H cane sugar
Simple syrup
Soy lecithin, from L’Epicerie

To Assemble and Serve
We got everything all set up in the “prep area.”

I filled the shot glasses halfway with the warm popcorn broth. Then topped with some of the liquid caramel and bubbles.

I especially loved this recipe because having braces, I’m not able to eat those Cracker Jacks that I’ve always known and loved. But with this dish, even the toothless can enjoy! 😀

Salter digital scale
Measuring bowls
Cutting board and kitchen knife
Large pot with lid
Oven mitt
Sauce pan
Wire whisk
Taylor candy thermometer
Oster blender
Chinois or china cap and ladle
Strainer or sieve
Tall, narrow container

Shot glasses

Yields: Eight servings, with some liquid from the caramel froth leftover. Perfect to put over vanilla ice cream!

Alternate Serving: Caramel Apple, Liquified
We also tried making a liquid version of the perennial Summer Fair favorite: the caramel apple. And it turned out swell!

We simply replaced the Popcorn Broth with apple juice. I juiced several Granny Smith apples and strained. Added the juice, some sugar, salt, butter and citric acid in a saucepan and heated until the solids had dissolved. Then blended.

Poured this in the glasses, then topped with the leftover caramel froth. Mmmmmmm!

Next, SQUAB, Watermelon, Licorice, Foie Gras

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