We recently went to a fall fair at this magical place:
It was a slightly nerve-wracking experience because the fair straddled an operative railroad track. There were booths on either side of the ties, and people were stepping to and fro, and the safety officers seemed distracted by the funnel cake.
I walked around clutching this bag of kettle corn crack to my chest.
I would not share with anyone. And I was appalled when Scott offered a handful of it to the lady at the antique store in exchange for half off what appeared to be a chandelier from a Schlitz submarine.
She declined. That was a good thing, from my point of view, because Thunder has started barking at things she can’t reach, like a globe on a table or a shiny bowl on the kitchen counter. If we installed this Schlitztacular orb in the dining room, she would scoot through there literally peeing on herself until we all got hip dysplasia.
The lady also declined to give us a discount on any of her more mainstream options, which we could not afford.
Not even these old, aesthetically-pleasing bottles.
So we left to go to someplace where (1) the decor never disappoints; and (2) kettle corn is more likely to be an acceptable currency: the Roller Derby.
If you have never been to a Roller Derby, I can tell you that it basically involves women with names like “Accounts Bleedable,” “Autopsy Turvey,” “Mao Su Stung” and “Boo T. Blocker” who careen around in mouth guards and sometimes fishnets, and mostly slam into each other. They do this on purpose so that a designated player on the other team does not lap everyone and begin accumulating points. These points and related penalties are tallied according to a scoring system so complicated and fantastical that only J.K. Rowling’s more imaginative step-sister could have made it up. It is a trippy experience, even if the disco ball (and there is always a disco ball) is not turned on.
Today’s recipe is inspired by our day eating kettle corn on Buttermilk Alley and at the Roller Derby. It is adapted from this recipe for a buttered popcorn ice cream sundae in this month’s Bon Appetit. (Hat tip to Scott’s mom for trying it first and recommending it.)
FYI- if you don’t have an ice cream maker, this is a problem that could be fixed in time for the weekend for $40-60 by ordering one here on Amazon. That’s not much when you consider that a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is, like, $7. Also, watching it churn makes you feel 10 years old, which is worth something.
I adapted Bon Appetit’s recipe to make it a little lighter (by using more whole milk and less heavy cream) and less sweet (by cutting out 1 tbsp. of the sugar). I also cut out some of the steps (pureeing the popcorn mixture in the blender and chilling the custard overnight. Seeing the word “overnight” in a recipe is a major bummer, so I axed it with zero discernible consequences.) I simplified the topping– it’s already buttered popcorn ice cream, so making Bon Appetit’s peanut butter halvah to go with it seemed a bit much. Our cones were delicious with some fresh popcorn on top and a drizzle of caramel. We followed Almost Bourdain’s recipe for caramel (in turn adapted from a David Lebovitz recipe) instead of Bon Appetit’s, because the former was much simpler. You could also just serve it with Cracker Jacks on top.
Derby Girl Ice Cream with Caramel Drizzle
For Ice Cream:
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
2 1/2 c. whole milk
2 c. popped popcorn (one popped bag gives you more than 2 c., and you can use some of this extra as a topping)
1 tbsp. butter (melted)
1/4 c. light corn syrup
4 tbsp. sugar
8 egg yolks
1 tsp. salt (you will use two 1/2 tsp. separately)
For Caramel Drizzle:
2 c. sugar
1 2/3 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. salt (preferably sea salt)
Directions for Ice Cream:
Begin by popping a bag of popcorn. Measure 2 cups’ worth and toss in a bowl with the 1 tbsp. melted butter and 1/2 tsp. of the salt.
Pour the 1 1/2 c. cream and the 2 1/2 c. whole milk over the popcorn and let it sit for 10 minutes to absorb the flavor.
Whisk the 1/4 c. corn syrup into the popcorn mixture.
Transfer popcorn mixture to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
While the popcorn mixture is heating, separate 8 egg yolks (I suggest reserving the whites for something else, like omelets). Place the egg yolks, the 4 tbsp. sugar and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt in a mixer and beat for a few minutes until the egg mixture lightens in color and drips in thick ribbons from a spoon. (Note: if you don’t plan to serve with a sweet topping, like caramel, you may want to increase the sugar to 5 tbsp. I prefer four because I don’t need that much sugar to hit the right salt/sweet balance to suit my taste. Bon Appetit uses a total of 5 tbsp. sugar by calling for 1 tbsp. to be added along with the corn syrup.)
Remove the hot popcorn mixture from the stove and gradually whisk it into the mixer bowl containing the egg mixture.
Transfer the contents of the mixer bowl back into the large sauce pan. Simmer over low-medium heat, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes. The mixture will thicken a little bit and coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not boil it or leave it on the stove for 10 minutes, because you don’t want to cook it into scrambled eggs. (NOTE: don’t worry if you think you overdid this custard step. It’s hard to thicken it while not getting flecks of scrambled egg in there. Most screw-ups at this stage are cured by the straining and churning process, so don’t start over unless something really weird happens.)
Remove the custard mixture from the heat and pour it through a fine strainer into a bowl. Use the back of a spoon to smush any egg bits through, but discard anything remaining in the strainer, including the popcorn bits.
Cover the bowl of custard and chill for a few hours. I put mine in the freezer for 10 minutes (because I didn’t have anything else in there and didn’t mind if the temperature rose a little bit) and then transferred it to the refrigerator for about 3 hours.
Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and proceed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For my Cuisinart ice cream maker, that means letting it churn for about 8-20 minutes or until it looks like soft ice cream. Since this recipe uses more milk than cream, it took a bit longer than usual but it firmed up nicely.
I think ice creams are best straight out of the machine, while they have the consistency of gelato. But you can also wait until after you’ve transferred the contents of the machine to a container and frozen it for a few hours. At that point, it will be the consistency of store-bought ice cream.
Serve with popcorn on top and caramel sauce, or Cracker Jacks.
Directions for Caramel Drizzle:
Place the 2 c. sugar in a large sauce pan over moderate heat. Do not stir until the sugar around the edges begins to liquify or any brown spots bubble up. Once sugar begins to melt around the edges, stir until sugar melts completely and turns from amber to a deep coppery brown. It should smell almost smokey if you get close to it.
Remove from the heat. Protect your hands with oven mitts and be careful of your face, etc. as you slowly whisk the 1 2/3 c. cream into the sugar, because it will spatter and seize up at first. Whisk in the 1/4 tsp. sea salt and the 2 tbsp. butter. Whisk until smooth. Serve.
(Note: If your caramel seizes up into hard, intractible nuggets of sugar when you add the cream, don’t worry. This happened to me, so I returned the sugar + cream mixture to the stove top and heated it gently until most of the pieces had dissolved. Then, after I added the salt and the butter, I passed the caramel through a strainer to remove the remaining sugar rocks.)
Store the caramel in the refrigerator and reheat over low heat or in the microwave.