Wednesday, April 30, 2014


My work counterpart went through a phase where she was obsessed with popcorn. At least once a week she’d stop by Trader Joe’s on her lunch break and come back to her desk with a bag of cheddar or kettle corn. Then remorse would strike and she’d press me to share in her snack, which was just fine by me. So when her birthday rolled around and I wanted to bake a gift, something involving popcorn seemed a natural choice.

I remembered seeing a recipe for buttered popcorn cookies in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, but when I Googled for it, I stumbled upon this Joy the Baker adaptation that improves upon that brilliance by adding chocolate to the mix. My coworker loves the sweet-salty combo, I have a long history with chocolate popcorn, and it doesn’t really seem like a birthday without chocolate, so it’s no surprise which version I settled on.

As an homage to the recipient’s particular fixation, I used TJ’s bagged kettle corn instead of making buttered popcorn from scratch. It turned out so well (not to mention being easier) that I’d be tempted to cut this corner again in the future, but I’m leaving in the directions for popping the corn yourself in case you’re more energetic (or farther from a Trader Joe’s) than I.

No matter what, these are some excellent treats. When I plopped the dough onto the baking sheets, it looked like clumps of popcorn just barely held together by batter, but they did indeed settle into proper cookies as they baked. If popcorn cookies sound weird to you, think addictively chewy chocolate chip cookies with an extra dose of salt and an occasional bit of crunch…the perfect movie-theater contraband snack. My coworker loved them, but they’ve definitely earned a spot in my personal cookie hall of fame too.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup yellow corn kernels
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped dark chocolate
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

1. To make the popcorn, place the oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat. When oil is hot, add corn kernels in a single layer across the bottom of the pan. Cover the pot but keep the lid ajar to let a bit of steam out. Listen to the popcorn as it pops. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner once the popping has subsided. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and drizzle with the 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Toss well, then pick through the popcorn to remove any unpopped kernels. Set aside to cool. You’ll have about 4 to 4½ cups of popcorn.

2. Preheat then oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until butter is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla extract for one more minute. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and beat on low until just combined. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use a spatula to fold in the popcorn. It might seem like a disproportionate amount of popcorn considering the cookie batter, but keep folding; the popcorn will break down a bit as it’s folded in. Fold in chocolate.

4. Scoop dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with coarse sea salt. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until the edges and tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Yields: 2 dozen
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Speed blogging! I’m busy busy busy and tired tired tired, but I feel bad for repeatedly neglecting you over the past month, so I’m just going to crank out some entries in a more slipshod manner than usual. Bear with me. First up: Another chapter in my long history of pudding mania. I saw this recipe at Smitten Kitchen and thought, “Hmm, do I like tapioca?” I vaguely recall my mom serving the instant stuff when I was a kid but don’t remember having any strong feelings toward it, although apparently tapioca is polarizing stuff, if the comments on the recipe are a fair representation. People seem to either love it or hate it, with texture being the main sticking point. I tend to like creamy-chewy concoctions, so I suspected I’d be in the tapioca-liking camp, and since coconut milk, vanilla, and cardamom turned my rice pudding indifference into passionate love, I figured they could do the same for my tapioca ignorance. I bought some Bob’s Red Mill small pearl tapioca (which reminds me alarmingly of Styrofoam fragments), fiddled with the recipe to mimic the rice pudding (not being a fan of either mangos or effort, I skipped the toppings from the Smitten Kitchen version), and got to work.

It turns out that while I can see why tapioca weirds people out, I do like it, especially when it’s dressed up in so many of my favorite flavors. It doesn’t hurt that it’s incredibly easy to make, either (although, as you can see, it did prove hard to photograph). Soak, mix, simmer, and you’re done! Its starchiness turns it into pudding without much effort on your part, and I find the texture fascinating. This is a comforting, nursery-style dessert that still feels relatively light and refreshing. Since I now have a giant bag of tapioca to use up, I’m extra glad the experiment worked out.

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
2½ cups coconut milk (light or full-fat; a 13.5-ounce can contains 1¾ cups)
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt or a heaped ¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 small vanilla bean
¼-½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1. In a medium saucepan, soak tapioca in coconut milk for 30 minutes.

2. Whisk in egg yolk, sugar, salt, and vanilla bean seeds, if using (if using extract, you’ll add it in a bit). Place saucepan over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer, then reduce it to very low heat so it’s barely bubbling. Cook until it thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Remove from heat and add cardamom, plus vanilla extract, if using. (Pudding will seem thin, about the consistency of thick gravy, but it will set after chilling in the fridge.) Pour into pudding cups to chill for several hours or overnight.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 1 hour plus chilling time
Leftover potential: Good.