When it comes to recipe ideas, I brainstorm a LOT. I have several pages of hand-written recipe ideas in a legal notepad (the pages are pink, I love it!), with many more up in my head just waiting to be written down. Some of the recipes have been crossed out because I’ve already made them, but many more are still as of yet unmade.
One such recipe that I wrote down years ago, was the idea for a panna cotta flavored like caramel corn. If you’re as big a fan of popcorn — and especially caramel corn — as I am, then you’ll definitely want to make this for yourself. If you’ve never had panna cotta, the best way I can describe it would be a softly set dairy-based jello. That makes it sound disgusting, I’ll admit, but really it’s delightful! Lightly sweet, and immensely less rich than a standard custard or crème brûlée, it’s the perfect sort of dessert you can still attempt after a large meal without waiting several hours to dive in
This version is made by steeping freshly popped popcorn, salt, and sugar in light cream. The flavors of all those ingredients spread themselves into every bite of this panna cotta. It really does taste like popcorn! The caramel part comes into play with the thick, rich, and sweet homemade caramel that is puddled on the top of each serving. Garnish with a sprinkling of caramel corn, and you’ve got yourself one fancy yet comforting dessert!
caramel popcorn panna cotta
(makes 4 – 6 oz servings; recipe adapted from this one)
6 Tbs + 2 tsp (90 g) popcorn kernels (or 6 cups popped)
4 1/4 tsp (20 g) vegetable oil
4 c (1000 g) half and half, 1/2 c (112 g) reserved
1 tsp (7 g) salt
3 Tbs + 3/4 tsp (50 g) granulated sugar
2 tsp (8 g) gelatin powder
caramel corn, for garnish
(makes about 2/3 cup)
7 Tbs + 1/2 tsp (103 g) granulated sugar
1/2 c (112 g) water
1/2 c (128 g) heavy cream, HOT
2 Tbs (1 oz) unsalted butter
1 tsp (5 g) vanilla extract
1/4 tsp (2 g) salt
In a large pot, place the vegetable oil and popcorn kernels. Cover and place over medium-high heat and allow the popcorn to fully pop. Remove from heat, place popcorn into a bowl and set aside. If you’re starting with pre-popped popcorn, skip this step.
In a medium sized pot, pour the half and half (minus the 1/2 cup reserved), along with the salt and sugar. Let heat until steaming, and then stir in the popcorn. Turn heat to low and allow the popcorn to simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the popcorn mixture through a fine strainer over a large bowl, and press on the popcorn with the back of a ladle to extract all of the half and half mixture. Throw out the popcorn pieces.
In a small dish, pour the reserved cold half and half over the gelatin and stir to combine, until there are no lumps. Using the same medium sized pot, heat the gelatin and half and half over low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Pour in the hot half and half mixture and stir to combine.
Portion the panna cotta mixture between 4 serving dishes. Place in the fridge uncovered and allow to set up for a minimum of 2-4 hours.
For the caramel: In a microwave safe container, heat the heavy cream for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes until very hot; set aside. In a medium pot, combine the sugar and water. Place over medium heat until the mixture is bubbling. Continue cooking on medium until the bubbles become very small and the color has deepened to a dark amber. This will take about 10 – 12 minutes. While the sugar mixture is bubbling, do not stir the pot. Swirl the pan over the burner to make sure the caramel cooks evenly.
Once the sugar mixture has reached a dark amber color, immediately remove from the heat and slowly, carefully, pour in the hot cream. Be careful, the caramel will bubble up violently and release a lot of steam! Once the bubbling has subsided a bit, whisk vigorously to incorporate all of the caramel with the cream, making sure to pay attention to the sides and bottom edge of the pot for any stuck-on caramel.
Whisk in the butter, vanilla, and salt. Pour the caramel into a bowl and allow it to cool at room temperature, or place in the fridge to cool faster. Once cool, store the caramel in a covered container.
To serve, drizzle or puddle some of the caramel on top of each serving (microwave the caramel briefly if it has become too cold), and sprinkle with a little (or a lot) of the caramel corn. Enjoy!
I am so glad I finally got around to making this panna cotta. I will no longer have to wonder at the joys of salty popcorn-flavored custard, covered with homemade caramel! It’s one of the best desserts I’ve had in a while, and it’s cool and creamy, perfect for warmer weather because it won’t weigh you down.