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Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie

At this time of year, although Hallowe’en is to me a very Irish celebration, I do like a spot of Americana in my stomach as the autumn nights draw in. Glorious orange pumpkins, soups and stews spiked with smoky frankfurters or the same sausages battered and served up as corndogs, glistening sticky pecan pies and handfuls of crispy popcorn. They seem to have the right flavours for the season and sheer greed and a slightly abstract conversation made me wonder if I could perhaps multi task and turn the latter two into one dish for ultimate eating?

I wanted something slightly more grown up that the crunchy toffee coated popcorn I so desired as a child on cinema trips which now seems sickly sweet and artificial. Reading recipes for caramel corn made me think mine needed the adult twist of sea salt for sure,  but I wanted something else to lift it and my memory went back to this lovely post for Rosemary Sea Salt Millionaires’ Shortbread that I’ve been meaning to make for yonks. Seeing that my rosemary bush was the only thing in the garden to survive the summer of slugmageddon decided it for me and that woody floral flavour would be my secret weapon.

Maple Rosemary Popcorn Pie: makes one 9″ pie (or 4 small ‘uns with tonnes leftover like me)

  • 250 g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 3 tablespoons popping corn
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g maple syrup (use all golden if you don’t have maple)
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • large pinch of sea salt (enough to just taste the salt)
  • tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

First start with your pastry. You can just use bought stuff for this, but if you’re making your own, may I recommend the sweet shortcrust by Dan Lepard in Short and Sweet? I’ve always had issues with my pastry shrinking no matter how well I chill it and this recipe is foolproof. I’m not going to write it all out because Dan explains it well elsewhere if you search, but really because if you’re buying a cookbook, it should be this one. Call it an early Christmas present…

Line your tart tin and chill the pastry again before blind baking for 15 minutes at 180℃ or until just colouring the palest golden shade. Leave to cool while you make your filling.

Place three tablespoons of raw popping corn kernels in a paper bag (I use leftover flour bags) and the smidge of coconut oil and fold the bag over loosely and microwave for about just under 2 minutes (I usually whip it out at 1.45 or it starts to burn) and voila! You have the quickest easiest popcorn possible. If doing something as delicious as this just carry as normal, but you’ve skipped the whole washing up stage.

Now melt the butter, sugar and syrups together in a pan. I’ve used unsalted butter because it’s too easy to overdo the salt with regular butter and then adding more salt, so have gone for a blank canvas, but obviously, you can improvise if you only have salted butter. Take the mixture off the heat and add in the chopped rosemary and the salt. Allow the mix to cool for about 10 minutes. Don’t skip this stage or your mix will be so liquid to pour in the case, you’ll stick everything in the kitchen to itself, you and the tart case as I did the first time.

Once the mix is cooled slightly, beat the eggs in it. They won’t curdle now you’ve reduced the temperature of the mix. Then stir the popcorn into the mix. You’ll need to do this fairly carefully and repeatedly as popcorn floats quite well and resists dunking unless really coaxed. I originally used this caramel corn which made it easier, but a) really isn’t very nice or worth the washing up and b) made the pie so sweet, the Scottish person I tried it on couldn’t eat it. Once your popcorn is entirely coated, pour the filling into the tin making sure you don’t overfill or the whole thing will stick. Bake the large case at 180℃ for about 40 minutes whereupon it should be golden brown but still slightly soft in the middle.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool and set slightly. Both this pie and the pecan pie it’s based on are best served slightly warm but not hot unless you want to remove several layers of skin from your mouth with molten sugar. This pie calls out to be served with clotted cream or really good vanilla ice cream. Just don’t expect as much crunch as pecan pie and you’ll love it. The popcorn is both soft and sugar coated crisp and the filling is like proper butter toffee with bite. The salt should be just enough to enhance the sweetness and the rosemary adds just enough interest to leave you guessing what the extra flavour is. Once I’d toned the sugar down, this was great.

If you like popcorn, you’ll love encasing in butter, sugar and syrup and then crisping it right up. If you don’t love popcorn, you’ll think this is just another American oddity, but to be honest, that’s why I rather liked it!

Salted Vanilla Toffee Apples

Halloween is a big deal in Ireland. We don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night (for obvious reasons in Northern Ireland) but the Irish have been holding a celebration around this time since Celtic times when Samhain was the equivalent of New Year. The date merged with the Christian All Souls Day and All Hallows’ Eve to become Halloween. Traditionally the time when the link between the world of the living and the dead was closest, it is a time of supernatural feeling and rememberance of those passed on. Irish and Scottish emigrants to America took the traditional Halloween customs with them and those have been exported back across the Atlantic to the less spooky-minded folk of England in recent times.

As kids growing up in Belfast, Halloween was a big deal. Half term always fell around this time and we were off school to celebrate with a variety of traditions from a turnip lantern and full on costumes, trick or treating, apple bobbing, indoor fireworks (anything more explosive was banned) and a rich array of seasonal foods. Our mum made her legendary apple dumpling most years, steamed in a cloth, complete with silver coins for luck and it was also the time of year for barmbrack. But we also got in another one of our five a day with a toffee apple or two.

Wrapped in cellophane, these twinkled and crinkled in the run up to the big night and produced a fantastic crunch when we were finally allowed them. Sharp shattering toffee, softened but crunchy apple and a burst of tangy juice, these got eaten faster than any other apple in the year. These are the taste of childhood to me and I haven’t eaten one for years. Could I make them a touch more adult while keeping the memories?

One of my favourite things I’ve made all year was the Salted Caramel Butter Ice-Cream and thinking back on it inspired me to add a salted twist to toffee apples. It was the perfect time to use the Halen Môn Vanilla Sea Salt I’ve been hoarding for a while and make them salt sweet perfection. I got some lolly sticks off Ebay and stocked up on English apples at Brixton Farmers’ Market. I was ready to heat sugar to scary temperatures…

First up, scald your apples with just boiled water to take off any waxy coating they might have. Dry them completely and push the sticks into them firmly. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and heat in a small pan:

225g golden granulated sugar
about a heaped tablespoon golden syrup
1 tsp vinegar (I used cider)
1 tsp sea salt
50ml water

Melt everything, bring to the boil and then get it all to the hard crack stage or approximately 150C. A sugar thermometer is a godsend here to make sure you don’t go over. Take the pan off the heat directly at this point and add in some red food colouring to get that proper candy apple red. I used a teaspoon of powdered colouring and I’d hazard a guess at the same of liquid. Natural isn’t the look we’re going for.

Keep the toffee molten and very liquid, putting back on a low or residual heat if needs be. Tilt the pan to one side to get the toffee as deep as possible and roll your apple in it, coating as high up as you can. Allow the excess the drip off into the pan and then set on the lined tray. Repeat until you run out of toffee. I got 6 small apples out of this, but probably could have done 8. Dollop any leftovers onto a tray to set like toffee and cover with chocolate or make spun sugar baskets or add a dash of bicarb for a cinder toffee-esque treat.

The toffee will set almost instantly on the apples and on the pan. Fill it with water and bring to the boil to save hours of soaking and scrubbing. Admire your handiwork and feel smug that you have not burnt yourself or the sugar. Then get stuck into a toffee apple as soon as possible.

They tasted exactly as I wanted. The flavour and feel of childhood but with a tiny tinge of adulthood from the salt. There was just a hint of vanilla, almost like a waft, rather than a flavour. You could add essence if you wanted a more defined taste. I scarfed mine in the same record speed as I used to, revelling in the soft apple and the shimmering crunchy toffee. I wrapped the remaining ones in cellophane and hoped fervently that no one called to trick or treat so I could eat the lot…