How to Make Crispy Chocolate Popcorn

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

If there's one thing my friends know about my eating habits, it's that I'm a popcorn fiend. Buttered or plain, salted or sweet, popcorn is the snack I most often whip up for myself.

Lately I've been grooving on this chocolate variation, with a mellow flavor and crunch reminiscent of Cocoa Puffs. It's not much fuss to prepare, and chances are all the ingredients are in your pantry already. It's a simple combination of water, golden syrup, butter, and sugar boiled up to 340°F to get some light caramelization.

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Mix in a handful of dark chocolate with a heat resistant spatula, then add a little baking soda and salt. The sodium bicarbonate will cause the candy syrup to foam—aerating it and making the dense candy more delicate by creating a honeycomb structure—at which point it's poured over a bowl of popcorn.

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Gently fold until the popcorn is well coated, then spread it out on a lightly greased baking sheet, and pull into clusters with a pair of metal forks. Be careful at this stage, the popcorn will be much hotter than it looks!

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Since the candy will rapidly begin to harden (particularly in winter months), work as quickly as you can to pull the clusters apart. It's not that you have to race, only that if you should focus on the job at hand rather than pause to put the dirty pot in the sink. Resist the urge to taste the popcorn, as it won't crisp until fully cool, leaving your teeth coated in mercilessly sticky chocolate candy. Soon enough, your patience will be rewarded with some wonderfully crunchy, chocolately popcorn.

Since the ingredients are so simple, it's important that everything is top-notch—especially the popcorn itself. Normally, it takes about 2 ounces of kernels to get 7 cups of popcorn, but when the corn is old the yield can be as low as 5 cups. That's because the stale kernels won't expand as fully as they should when popped, creating small, dense pieces that don't taste as light and crisp as they should. So it's worth replacing that bag of popcorn kernels that's been collecting dust on the shelf with a fresh package.

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Another way to upgrade this recipe is to pop the kernels in raw (undeodorized) cocoa butter to build in a deeper chocolate aroma. Raw cocoa butter can also be used to replace the butter in the candy for a vegan variation.

As for the chocolate, reach for something flavorful and dark, at least 72% so it will pack a real punch. I designed the recipe to use 3 ounces of chocolate since that's how most "fancy" bars are sold in supermarkets—look for brands like Engaged Species, Green & Blacks, or Divine.

In my restaurant days, I'd use this popcorn as a garnish for creamy vanilla desserts like whipped Greek yogurt and panna cotta, but these days I find its crunch and mellow chocolate flavor perfect for simply snacking out of hand.