A year ago, who would have predicted that sales of yeast and lobster would skyrocket while on-the-go foods like nutrition bars would tank. Another, less talked about beneficiary of pandemic-related lockdowns has been cookbooks. Print sales rose 15% for the first three-quarters of 2020, compared to 2019. No surprise, bread cookbooks led the way; sales were up 145% over the same time period, according to data from the market research firm, NPD Group.
Cult favorite Brooklyn bakery Ovenly has taken advantage of that renewed obsession with a new edition of their 2014 tome Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes From New York’s Most Creative Bakery (Park Row Books). The book went through three printings and then disappeared.
“During quarantine when everyone amped up their baking, no one could find our cookbook,” says Ovenly co-founder Agatha Kulaga. “Prices of used copies were going through the roof.” In response, she and fellow founder Erin Patinkin put out an updated version in early January, including new recipes like their top-selling hot chocolate cookies, packed with mini marshmallows.
Among the old favorites: spicy caramel corn, studded with fat pieces of bacon. Although Ovenly became famous for its cookies, scones and stout-spiked Brooklyn Blackout cake, “the secret beginning,” says Kulaga, “is that we started off as a bar snack company.”
“We grew up in the ’80s, the era of Combos,” she continues. “We spent a lot of time brainstorming business plans over drinks, thinking what went well with booze. Our plan was to level up lame bar snacks.” Their pastry may have taken off more quickly, but their first big idea—that popcorn—is a sight to behold.
The kernels are doused in a cayenne pepper caramel infused with ale. Add bacon, and the result is addictively smoky, sweet, and spicy, combining a large amount of crave-able products in one place. It’s a no-brainer with beer, since that’s the secret ingredient, although it’ll complement a wintry whiskey drink, too.
Presumably everyone knows how to prepare the base ingredients, bacon and popcorn. That leaves the beer caramel, which is the trickiest part, but made infinitely simpler with a candy thermometer (they cost less than $10 at grocery stores or online). Then it’s just a matter of combining the products and waiting for the popcorn to cool enough to start eating it.
The following recipe is adapted from Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes From New York’s Most Creative Bakery by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin.
Spicy Bacon and Beer Caramel Popcorn
Makes about 4 cups
6 slices thick-cut bacon or 10 slices regular bacon
Vegetable oil cooking spray, or vegetable oil
One-third cup popcorn kernels
4 tbsp. rendered bacon fat (from cooking the bacon)
3 cups sugar
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
One-fourth cup dark English ale
One-fourth cup water
1 ½ tbsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
In a pan, fry the bacon until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to cool, then crumble into large pieces. Pour off 4 tablespoons fat for the popcorn. Reserve the remaining fat for another use. (The book’s authors, who are strong no-waste advocates, recommend mixing leftover with softened butter for a porky spread for bread and muffins.)
Spray a large mixing bowl, baking sheet, and two large metal mixing spoons with non-stick cooking spray. In a popcorn popper or large pot with a lid, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn, cover and cook until all the kernels have popped, shaking constantly to prevent burning. If using a popper, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer the popcorn to the coated bowl, and mix in the cooked bacon. Combine the baking soda and cayenne in a small bowl.
Combine the sugar, ale, water, butter, and salt in large pot. Cook until the mixture turns a rich golden brown and reaches 305°, (or the hard crack stage) on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. (If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a spoonful of syrup in cold water; it should be hard enough to crack if you mold it.) Remove the pan from heat and stir in the cayenne and baking soda for 30 seconds until any clumps have been dispersed and the foam subsides. Immediately pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn and bacon and mix well using the prepared spoons, until everything is well coated.
Spread the caramel corn onto the prepared baking sheet. Let cool, then break apart into bite sized pieces and serve.
The article has been lightly edited for style. Written by Kate Krader .