Caramel Popcorn Cookies

Start with homemade caramel popcorn.
Start with homemade caramel popcorn.

Sure, you could make this addictive caramel popcorn and just call it a day.

But come on, it’s the holidays. It’s time to take it up a notch, to revel in being over the top, to go big or go home.

So go one better, and turn that snack into “Caramel Popcorn Cookies.”

Oh, yeahhh. Instead of stirring in the usual chocolate chips or dried cranberries into your cookie dough, throw in a big flourish of caramel popcorn instead.

It’s like two treats in one.

And end up with Caramel Popcorn Cookies!
And end up with Caramel Popcorn Cookies!

This novel recipe comes from the new cookbook, “Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by one of my all-time favorite bakers, James Beard Award-winning Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery, with multiple locations in Boston and Cambridge, and the Chinese restaurant Myers + Chang in Boston.

Her newest cookbook is all about the iconic baked goods that she’s created and refined over her storied career. Fall for everything from “Sticky Bun Kouign-Amann,” “Gluten-Free Focaccia” and “Housemade Nutella Babka” to “Lemon Polenta Cookies,” “Bittersweet Chocolate-Orange Truffle Tart with Salted Caramel,” and “Syrian Nutmeg Cake.”

“Jessi’s Caramel Popcorn Cookies” is named for named for Pastry Chef Jessi of Flour’s Fort Point locale, who came up with the idea for this novel treat.

You can use purchased caramel corn to streamline things. But making your own is easy enough by following the included recipe for popping popcorn and coating it in a mixture of boiled brown sugar and butter. Spread the coated popcorn on a cookie tray and bake to crisp up more. The only change I made to the recipe was to decrease the baking time. It originally called for 15 minutes in the oven, but I found my first batch turned out verging on burnt. So I remade it, and baked it for only 11 minutes, which left the kernels toasty and nicely golden.

The caramel corn gets mixed into the cookie dough, then dropped onto cookie sheets. Because of the high amount of butter (in the dough and the popcorn), you want to keep a close eye on the cookies as they bake, since they will brown easily. I found mine were ready to come out of the oven in about 11 to 12 minutes.

These cookies are sweet, salty, chewy and crisp — all at once — with a caramel-toffee-like character.

They’re a marvel to make the holidays that much sweeter.

Super fun cookies that hit every texture and taste bud.
Super fun cookies that hit every texture and taste bud.

Jessi’s Caramel Popcorn Cookies

(Makes 24 to 26 cookies)

1 1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

About 6 cups caramel popcorn (recipe below) or store-bought caramel popcorn

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place racks in the center and bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg and vanilla. Beat until combined. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just barely combined. Add the popcorn and mix on low until the popcorn is fully incorporated. (At this time, the batter can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.)

Drop large rounded spoonfuls of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Sprinkle the cookies evenly with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake for 11 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets and switching their positions midway through the baking time, until the edges are golden brown and the centers are set.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Caramel Popcorn

(Makes about 6 cups)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (such as canola)

1/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or butter it lightly, and set aside.

In a really large pot with a lid, heat the oil over high heat until hot. Add the popcorn, cover the pot, and reduce heat to medium-high. shake the pot every few seconds until you start to hear the popcorn popping, then shake the pot constantly as it continues to pop. When popping shows down to one pop every few seconds, turn off the heat but keep shaking. When you hear one pop every 5 or 6 seconds, remove the pot from the stove and dump the popcorn out into a large bowl. Remove and discard any unpopped kernels.

Return the pot to the stove and add the butter and brown sugar. Heat over high heat until the butter melts. It will get foamy and start to color bit by bit. Boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, for about 1 minute until the color deepens to golden brown like maple syrup and it smells rich and delicious. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the baking soda and salt. Immediately put the popcorn back into the pot all at once. Stir until the popcorn is evenly coated. Spread the popcorn on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 11 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through the baking time. Remove from the oven and let cool. The popcorn will be soft when you first remove it from the oven but will crisp up as it cools.

Caramel popcorn can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Adapted from “Pastry Love” by Joanne Chang

More Joanne Chang Recipes To Enjoy: Soy Sauce Deviled Eggs with Five Spice

And: Honey Cashew Morning Buns

And: Big White Chocolate, Almond and Cherry Cookies

Plus: Brown Sugar-Oat Cherry Muffins

And: Apple Snacking Spice Cake

And: Mama Chang’s Hot and Sour Soup

And: Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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