Recipe Sleuth: ChurchKey’s Caramel Corn

At this trendy beer house, bar snacks are far from your average bowl of peanuts.

Photograph courtesy of Powers and Crewe.

To go with the 555 beers at Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac crafts brew-friendly sweets that are often a play on childhood favorites (think Hostess-style cupcakes and oatmeal cream pies). Her caramel corn at ChurchKey has flavors that recall the classic Cracker Jack, but she punches the dessert up with some extra ingredients.

“I thought it’d be nice to add some salty and spicy elements,” she said, referring to the unsweetened coconut and candied ginger she uses to cut the sugariness of traditional recipes.

When making ChurchKey’s caramel corn at home, MacIsaac recommends forgoing prepackaged ingredients and buying from bulk bins to cut down on cost and ensure freshness.

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ChurchKey’s Caramel Corn

Make the popcorn:

½ cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup salted cashews, whole
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted lightly at 325 degrees until light golden
2 to 3 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped (or to taste)
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Place the popcorn kernels, oil, and kosher salt in a wide-bottom sauté pan. Roll the kernels around to coat with oil, and cover with either foil or a lid. Cook over medium heat until you hear popping, then shake the pan back and forth, keeping it on the burner, until the popping stops. Take off of the heat, and remove the lid immediately. Allow to cool.

Carefully lift out the popcorn—being sure to leave any un-popped kernels behind—and place it in a large bowl. Scatter the cashews, coconut, and candied ginger over the popcorn and set aside while cooking the caramel.

Make the caramel:

3¼ cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
4½ teaspoons Maldon or other sea salt

Place the sugar and water in a pot with high sides. Cook over high heat, not stirring, until it begins to caramelize (watch the pot very carefully). Cook to a medium amber caramel, being careful not to burn it. Turn off the heat and swirl in the butter and kosher salt. Pour over the popcorn mix and use a metal spoon to stir until the popcorn is well-coated. Pour the coated popcorn onto an oil-sprayed cookie sheet and use the spoon to press it into an even layer. While it is still hot, sprinkle the popcorn with the Maldon salt. Once cooled, break it apart and store in an air-tight container.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.