Easy Holiday Popcorn Recipe

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I imagine I’m in good company as a popcorn fan. The smell that wafts through movie theaters, malls, and wherever popcorn is popping is one of the best aromas, don’t you agree? I find myself sniffing it out like a bloodhound, wondering where it’s coming from. But, I bet you don’t often think about popcorn much beyond that—am I right? Well, here comes more on the subject than you’ve probably thought about these delicate, delicious morsels, but you just may up your popcorn appreciation.

I contemplated more about popcorn when I received a note from the Popcorn Board a few months ago, and they sent another e-mail recently with this tasty-looking holiday recipe so I thought I’d share it and the love of the popcorn snacks.

Did you know there is even a Popcorn Board? Yep. It’s a non-profit organization funded by U.S. popcorn processors to raise awareness of popcorn as a versatile, whole-grain snack. Whole grain? Yes, all corn, or maize, is a whole grain. And we’re supposed to make sure to eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet, so why not make some of those servings popcorn? But, all corn is not created equal. Popcorn, sweet corn, and field corn are different—popcorn is the only type of corn that pops.

How does it pop? Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. When harvested, popcorn is dried so that it contains between 13.5-14 percent moisture, the amount it needs to pop. The soft starch is surrounded by the kernel’s hard outer surface, the hull, which has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open when enough pressure builds inside. As the kernel heats up, the water expands, creates steam, and cooks the starch inside, turning it into a liquid mass. Pressure builds inside and finally reaches a point that breaks the hull open. The contents inflate and spill out, cooling immediately and forming the “popcorn” shape we know. (There’s even a fun little action video showing this on the board’s site.) Without that bit of moisture popcorn can’t pop, so it’s important to store it in airtight plastic or glass containers to avoid moisture loss, and in a cool place such as a cupboard. Avoid the refrigerator, though, which usually contains little moisture and can dry out kernels.

Beyond being a whole grain option, popcorn is also gluten-free and low in calories; air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup and oil-popped popcorn has only 55 calories per cup. And when lightly buttered, popcorn contains about 133 calories per cup. Popcorn provides energy-producing complex carbohydrates and is a good source of fiber—and three cups of popcorn equals one serving from the grain group.

In addition to the classic salt and butter topping, there are countless options from savory to sweet to flavor your snack—sprinkle with herbs de Provence, cheese, or garlic powder or seasoning salt to create a lightly flavored savory treat. (But don’t salt popcorn until after it’s popped; pre-salting kernels toughens popcorn.) Sprinkle popcorn with cinnamon sugar, cocoa, or pumpkin spices for a touch of sweet. There are many ideas and recipes on the board’s site. Combine popcorn with dried fruit and nuts to create your own custom snack mix—and the following recipe offers an easy, festive option to serve at holiday parties or make a double batch and package in festive containers to give as gifts. You’d even help provide the recipient with a serving of whole grains to boot.

Easy, Elegant Holiday Popcorn

Makes 8 Cups

8 c. popped popcorn
2 oz. white chocolate, melted
2 oz. dark chocolate, melted
Red and green sprinkles

Place popcorn on a large baking sheet.

Drizzle with melted white chocolate and melted dark chocolate. Scatter sprinkles over top. Let stand until chocolate is set.

Break into clusters if needed. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.