Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Caramel Popcorn Tart

“May you live in interesting times” is purported to be an ancient curse, but I cannot verify the origins of it. It does seem however, that we are now living in interesting times. We are all looking for comfort and solace, but also things to do! For me, being alone in the kitchen is not such a hardship (alone everywhere all the time is another matter). I’ve been working away to figure out recipes and ideas that use up pantry staples and simple, available ingredients, which I am sharing on my Facebook page, The Runaway Spoon. I am always happy to answer questions or start discussions there. But in addition to these helpful hints, I like to share some decadent comfort foods, like this Caramel Cobblerrecipe.

It has, frankly, been a little bit hard to know what to post in the last couple of weeks. All these spring vegetable and Easter recipes I had ready to go? Lists of ingredient substitutions or 101 ways to use dried beans? There are far greater concerns in the world than fun recipes or kitchen projects, but we all need to eat and we could all use with a little distraction. I generally try to adhere to the British Keep Calm and Carry on ethos in most emergencies, but that is exactly the wrong idea right now. Keep calm, yes, but change your daily habits to protect yourself, your family and friends and complete strangers. So I will probably go off book here for awhile. If you’d like me to post something specific, please let me know. I may draw from the archives and repost some classics from the past. I may skip a week here and there. But please, keep up with me on Facebook and Instagram for some very distant social interactions.

And remember, your local food bank is in desperate need right now. With monetary donations, they can purchase food to distribute to those who can’t afford to stock up, those who are losing their jobs and kids who rely on school meals. Volunteers are needed as well, and all necessary safety precautions are in place.

So, to move forward, I’ve decided to post this rich, decadent and slightly silly dessert that I created before social distancing was a thing. I had it in reserve for some future post, but it seems like the right thing for right now. The whole family will love it, it uses pretty simple, staple ingredients. There is a little work involved, but it is not difficult, only taking a little patience. It will pass some time. This tart is rich! Only small slices are needed, and it will last covered in the fridge for a day or two.

Use plain, unsalted, unbuttered popcorn to start. It is best to use airpopped as it has nothing clinging to it. You can even put kernels into a paper lunch sack, fold the top down a few times and place on its side with the fold facing down in the microwave. Set for 5 minutes, but listen to and remove when the popping is almost stopped. Microwave popcorn or packaged popped corn have a chemical taste, and popping with oil adds, well, oil. Make a little extra and toss it lightly with some melted butter and salt to sprinkle over the tart. As I say, this is a very sweet treat, so don’t skip the sprinkling of flaky salt on the top to cut through some of the richness.

Caramel Popcorn Tart

For the Crust:

7 cups plain popped popcorn (you’ll want about a cup more for topping)

1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

9 Tablespoons butter, melted

For the filling:

1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) of butter

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Buttered popcorn and flaky salt for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch removable bottom tart tin with foil. Use your fingers to press the foil into the ridges of the sides of the tin.

Put 4 cups of popcorn in the bowl of a food processor and process until ground. Add the rest of the popcorn 1 cup at a time until it is all ground to fine crumbs (like you would do with graham crackers for a similar crust). Add the sugar and salt and process to combine, then pour in the melted butter and process until you have a wet rubble. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared tart tin and press into an even layer that covers the bottom without gaps and climbs up the sides. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Bake the tart shell for 10 minutes, until it is lightly browned. The crust will slide from the sides of the tin, but as soon as it comes from the oven, use a flexible spatula or the back of a spoon to press the crust back up the sides at least half way. Press together any cracks in the bottom to repair gaps. Refrigerate the tart crust immediately.

For the Filling:

Melt the butter and sugar together in a medium saucepan and bring to a roiling bowl over medium high heat, stirring frequently. When it reaches a deep caramel color, remove the pan from the heat and pour in the cream, stirring to combine. Stir in the salt. The mixture will bubble and if it appears to seize up at all, return it to the heat and stir until smooth.  Pour the hot caramel into the chilled popcorn crust and leave to cool down for a few minutes, then refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours) or overnight.

To serve, warm a knife under hot water or over the stove flame and slice the tart. Small slices are sufficient. Top with generous flakes of sea salt and some buttered popcorn.

Serves 10

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