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Porky Pop

During our tour of Stratford a few weekends ago we spent some time at Chocolate Barr’s learning to make caramel corn with nuts, or nutty pop.  As well as cajoling us into stirring his cauldron while wearing embarrassing hairnets Derek Barr, one of the shop’s proprietors, demonstrated his recipe for this confection that he describes as caramel corn with a college education.

Derek notes–somewhat accurately–that everyone and his brother is throwing bacon into their recipes.  Well, I submit that food can be delicious without being original.  Unsurprisingly, I have adapted his recipe (that he was kind enough to send each of us home with) to include nuggets of bacon.

There’s a distressing trend that calls for bacon to be crispy (usually meaning over-cooked) and in very small pieces when it is added to baked goods and candy.  I want the opposite.  I want chunks that are still a little chewy with some un-rendered fat. This way when the crunch of the nuts and popcorn and the sweetness of the caramel have faded we’re left to contemplate bacon’s salty, smokey savour.The art and craft of making this caramel corn is two-fold: Keep the caramel moving and evenly mixed so that it doesn’t burn and carefully plan when to add the nuts, bacon, and popcorn based on how long they take to cook.  The almonds take longer to cook so they go in when the syrup reaches 260F; the pecans take a shorter amount of time so are added at 285F; and the bacon and popcorn is precooked so they both go in at the end when the syrup hits 300F.  This wisdom is lifted directly from Derek’s original recipe.

The popcorn is popped using the stovetop method I wrote about a few months ago.  I wondered (very briefly) how well the hot caramel would pop the popcorn but then decided that: a.) it would definitely not be as hot or conductive as hot oil and b.) I didn’t want to visit the burn ward because I had foolishly introduced an explosive element to very sticky, molten sugar.  Please don’t try that yourself.  Also, take the time to carefully screen un-popped or poorly-popped kernels from the popcorn–the presence of hard nuts and candied pieces of bacon makes teeth less cautious.

Pre-cooked bacon sits beside his sometimes rival, sometimes friend butter

Likewise the bacon, cut from a slab into chunks about 1 cm by 1 cm by 2 cm should be cooked to the desired level of doneness by your preferred method, before starting on the sugar syrup.

I will spend a moment describing the stirring technique employed here.  Derek did a good job of demonstrating and I did a only somewhat effective job of emulating it when using his over-sized copper kettle and three foot wooden spoon.  Here’s the best way I can describe the motions needed.  Consider the pot as marked with the four cardinal compass directions with south at the point of the pot closest to you.  The idea is to move from south to north while pushing with the flat side of the spoon; then slice from N to W with the spoon’s narrow profile; another push from W to E with the flat side; and finally a slice back from E to S.  My best guess is that this system is designed to stir the pot’s contents evenly and avoid dangerous splashing by always pushing away from yourself.

Derek’s recipe advises to carefully wash sugar crystals from the sides of the pot.  My understanding is that these act as seed crystals for the rest of the candy and if you aren’t careful to avoid them the taste will be unaffected but the shelf life will be reduced.  I tried to do this with a barely-moistened, coarse bottle brush but, frankly, was probably too timid about it for fear of introducing too much additional water or, worse, melting the brush.

Speaking of shelf life, I’m skeptical about the advice recipes give for how long their product will keep.  No one is making a statistically significant number of test batches and averaging how long it takes for them to go off.  These are, I believe, somewhat educated guesses.  In this case, there was no way for me to eat the whole batch of Porky Pop at once so spread my own gluttony over an entire week.  I can tell you that for the first three to four days I couldn’t detect any differences from the freshly-made, cooled samples.  By days five and six the popcorn had turned too chewy for my tastes and by day seven the bacon was like shoe leather.  Derek mentioned that how the candy component is made affects shelf life–especially with reference to hitting the proper temperatures, keeping the pot sides clean of seed crystals, and working quickly to cool it evenly–so his probably keeps longer than my homemade did.

Porky Pop

Adapted from Derek Barr’s (of Chocolate Barr’s in Stratford, Ontario) excellent recipe for Nutty Pop.
  • 230g white sugar
  • 140g brown sugar
  • 90g corn syrup (the original call for glucose)
  • 230g raw, whole almonds
  • 230g raw pecans
  • 150g slab bacon, cut into small chunks
  • 60g popped popcorn (conveniently the popped stuff weighs exactly what it does in its un-popped state)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 90g butter
  • 90g water

The sweet ingredients

Bring the water, salt, and three sweet ingredients to a boil in a heavy, large pot.  Large is critical because you want to avoid having this splash or boil over at all costs.  Once boiling add the butter and use a wooden spoon (wood is an excellent insulator) to stir in the fashion described previously.

Silpat-lined baking sheet, wide wooden spoon and vintage candy thermometer

Preparation is essential for this recipe even more than others.  Have all ingredients and tools assembled before you start.  You do not want to be searching frantically for your Silpat while your home fills with the acrid smell of burning sugar.

Almonds and pecans

When the syrup reaches 260°F (as measured by your trusty candy thermometer) add the almonds and at 285°F add the pecans.  At 300°F it is time to add the pre-cooked ingredients (popcorn and bacon) and pour the porky pop onto the Silpat-line baking sheet.  After the second batch of nuts go in it may be tough to stir and use the candy thermometer (or even use the thermometer at all) so you may be best estimating the time it will take to reach the 300°F based on your experience so far and taking into account how the temperature will drop when the pecans go in.

When turning the candy out onto the baking sheet the idea is to spread it out so that the popcorn is evenly coated and so that it is broken into bite-size pieces.  Err on the side of safety.

Stored in a large Ziploc bag my particular batch was delicious for four days.

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4 Comments

  1. Derek Barr says:

    Wow, and I thought I was crazy for thinking about making a smoke Truffle. The Porky Pop looks amazing and I bet it will taste amazing as well. You hit on what I think is the most important parts of my job. Having fun with sugar and being creative. Really amazing work, I hope it turned out tasting as good as it looks

    Derek

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Derek. While my candy wasn’t as well-executed as yours I think the Porky Pop tasted really good. I liked how the bacon ties the sweet candy to the savoury nuts.

    Thanks again for the great tutorial.

  3. [...] dessert, I’d make Tequila Bars to go with whatever Margarita Punch is left. And Caramel Corn with Bacon and Brownies too. And just because something gelatinous and football shaped would be fun and [...]

  4. [...] I’m slightly working another old FWL recipe. With some minor adjustments I’m making Porky Pop, or bacon caramel corn, this time with peanuts and walnut [...]

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