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Modernist Eats: Turn Pepperoni into Powder for a Popcorn Topper

Editor's note: We're introducing a new column called Modernist Eats from Linda of Salty Seattle. She'll be using science in the kitchen to reinvent classic recipes! —The Mgmt.

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Try as I might, I've never been able to combine the two American flavors of pepperoni pizza and popcorn without making a soggy, gloppy mess. Until now.

I have harnessed the might of modernist cooking and smashed two of the best things in life into one just like a sorceress on steroids. No, I haven't conjured David Hasselhoff naked while playing hacky sack; I've figured out a way to smatter pepperoni onto popcorn.

It involves a culinary technique called transformation. In cooking, transformation occurs when an ingredient that is typically in one state undergoes an unusual shift and becomes something else entirely.

In this case, I've turned pepperoni into powder using a magical ingredient called tapioca maltodextrin. While most starches will thicken fats (think roux), tapioca maltodextrin is exceptional in that it has the unique ability to turn high-fat liquids into powdery suspensions.

The process is relatively simple and easily satisfies a craving for classic American comfort food faster than the Domino's delivery boy can hot-foot it to the front door. It's also addictive.

Since my giant tub of maltodextrin arrived from Willpowders, I've been powdering everything from foie gras to Fluffernutters. But pepperoni remains at the top of my list because of its intense flavor.

While tapioca maltodextrin is nearly tasteless, you still need quite a bit of it to oomph up oil, which leads to dilution in flavor. Consequently, you wouldn't want to powder a blasé oil like canola; instead, choose something that packs an Everclear-spiked punch.

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The technique for turning oil into powder involves little more than a whisk and a strainer, which debunks the myth that modernist cookery is elaborate, complicated or highly-processed. It's important to use fat that has been cooled to room temperature; if it's too hot it will result in clumpier powder. If you hanker for the sweeter spectrum, Nutella powder makes just about the best melt-in-your-mouth sundae topping imaginable.

I am always looking for ways to entice my child into the kitchen and transformation is one way to do it because of the serious science geek cred. It's like a magician's parlor trick with edible and delicious results. The wow factor is so high, in fact, that little kitchen helpers inevitably try to powder everything from popsicles to peanut butter.

I fully support the notion that we can improve upon the world around us through the judicious use of science, and the kitchen is one of the very best places to experiment. I only get put off when excessive scientific manipulation of food causes it to be too precious, overly-stylized and veers into the territory of haute couture rather than haute cuisine.

Pepperoni powder is so lacking in airs; it appeals to everyone from my three-year-old to my grandmother. If that is not the definition of a versatile classic, I don't know what is.

Learn how to make pepperoni powder »

About the author: Linda lives in Seattle, WA where she practices modernist food ninja sorcery and writes about it on her personal blog www.saltyseattle.com. She is a freelance contributor to many local and national publications. If you want her in 140 character snippets, follow her on twitter @saltyseattle.

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