its name is popcorn cookies

I have a problem. It’s bright white, plus crunchy and supple on the teeth. My problem is salty, buttery, and oh so alluring. This problem goes well with coconut oil, Maldon salt, herbes de provence, caramel, and nutritional yeast. (I’ve been told about that last one. I have yet to try it.) Fresh herbs, too. My problem only lasts a few moments, but damned fine moments they are.

I have a popcorn problem.

I’m not talking about movie theatre popcorn. No way. I don’t want that wilted popcorn turned yellow from fake buttery flavoring, the same yellow as an old man’s teeth. It’s always too salty — the bottom of the bag is like dipping your hand into a salt lick and cringing when you put it into your mouth. It’s just…artificial. Look, if you put it in front of me in a movie theatre, I’ll probably eat it. Then again, I haven’t been inside a movie theatre more than five times in the last six years.

(Okay, let me pause for a moment. Seriously? Is that true? I was raised on good films. My family has a clear distinction for which ones are movies and which ones are films. My father used to teach film appreciation at a community college near our Southern California home. This meant he could bring home a 16-mm projector with thick reels of film and show us Buster Keaton films on the living room wall. I watched all the antics of Charlie Chaplin before I was 10. I endured Citizen Kane so many times that I started volunteering to do the dishes to avoid the mystery of Rosebud again. There was Battleship Potemkin, the films of Jean Renoir, anything by Truffaut, and enough D.W. Griffith to make me swear off his films forevermore. We also watched, in flickering images above the green naugahyde couch, Singing in the Rain, which I have never stopped loving. Perhaps because of this, I acted in ABC Afterschool Specials and local television commercials for a year or two in my pre-teens. That clattering clackety-clack of film moving through a projector and the stories unfolding on our white wall instilled something in me that is still alive with light.

So how could it be true that I rarely sit in a movie theatre anymore? Having a child changes everything. Luckily, I’m more than happy to let go of most of today’s Hollywood movies for Lucy.)

So, no movie theatre popcorn for me.

And no thank you to microwave popcorn. It’s slimy with perservatives and too much steamy closeness in that puffed-up bag for my taste. It’s a waste of space. It has the same draw as really trashy tv when you’re sick. You sort of enjoy it, in the moment, and then you just feel sort of dirty, like you need a hot shower. (Two weeks ago, when I was suffering with that terrible ear infection, I lay on the couch and watched back-to-back episodes of America’s Next Top Model from 2009. Maybe I’ll know how to smize by the time the book tour starts.) I’m also not a fan of microwaves. I’m not going to preach to you with lots of science I am sure is right. The science conflicts with itself and I’m not a zealot. I just think that anything that bakes a sweet potato in 6 minutes is a little freaky.

So, if I don’t eat movie theatre popcorn or microwave popcorn (or, god forbid, that lukewarm popcorn in bags they sell on the ferry), what do I eat?

Popcorn. Hot, just-popped-on-the-stove popcorn.

Only, lately, we’ve been popping popcorn in an electric popcorn maker, a little akin to the one my family had in the 1980s. My folks had one that stood upright, splaying popcorn out of its snout, while butter (or probably, margarine) melted in the 1970s orange plastic cup that sat on top. I loved that popcorn maker. This popcorn maker we like even more.

These days, I don’t really care about butter on my popcorn. Coconut oil makes the best oil for popping. And it has such a richness that I don’t need extra butter. Just a pinch or two of Maldon salt in the hot oil and sizzling kernels, and another fleck or two when it’s done. A big bowl of popcorn awaits.

Danny loves popcorn as much as I do. In fact, he may love it more than me. Almost every night, for months, when the kid was finally asleep after dance parties, drawing, family yoga, and a stack of books, Danny looked at me and said, “Popcorn?” Yes, please.

We’ve cut back on the nightly giant bowl of popcorn. It’s a once-a-week treat now. And we love this this heirloom popcorn . It’s expensive enough now that we can only afford to make one bowl of hot popcorn a week.

But if there’s anything Danny loves more than popcorn? It’s cookies. The man has a fierce, desiring sweet tooth, far more than I do. I love baking cookies. He loves eating them. We’re the perfect pair.

So, when we saw that Deb from Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for buttery warm cookies filled with just-popped popcorn in her wonderful new cookbook? Done.

Now I have a new problem. And its name is popcorn cookies.

Gluten-Free Buttered Popcorn Cookies, adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

I don’t really need to tell you how wonderful The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is, do I? It has been a huge, nationwide bestseller since it was published in the fall. This surprises no one who has been a reader of Deb Perelman. She is a force of nature, meticulous and hilarious both. We’re lucky enough to know Deb, a little, and I’ve been cheering her from the sidelines since she first got the contract for this book, through the years of writing and editing, and now that it is sitting on our cookbook shelves. The book is filled with recipes like leek fritters with garlic and lemon, butternut squash and caramelized onion galette, sugar snap salad with miso dressing, and seared halibut and gazpacho salad with tomato vinaigrette. Deb loves her vegetables, the same way we do. These recipes are bright, lively, and pretty darned easy to make if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get in the kitchen.

And if there are warm, buttery popcorn cookies waiting for you at the end of that work? Well, it hardly feels like work at all.

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
115 grams (1 US stick) unsalted butter, melted
95 grams (1/2 cup packed) dark brown sugar
65 grams (1/3 cup) white sugar (we prefer unbleached white sugar)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
155 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Popping the popcorn. If you’re popping the popcorn on the stove, set a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the coconut oil and watch it melt. When the oil is fully melted and sizzling hot, add the popcorn kernels. Shake the pan around until you have an even layer of kernels. Pinch in the salt. Quickly! Put on the lid. When you hear the kernels begin to pop, give the pan a vigorous shake. As they begin to pop more and more, hold the pan and shake it, in rhythm if you can, all around the burner. Keep it moving so you don’t burn any kernels. When the popping has slowed down to silence, turn off the burner. Take off the lid and pour the popcorn into a large bowl. (This should make about 6 cups of popcorn. You’ll need some to munch on as you make the cookies.)

Making the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer — but you can also make this by hand — cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. When the butter and sugars are thoroughly combined, and with the stand mixer still running on low, add the egg to the dough. Pour in the vanilla extract and mix.

Combine the gluten-free flours and baking soda. With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients. When they are thoroughly combined, turn off the stand mixer. Remove the paddle and take the bowl off the mixer. Add 4 cups of the popped popcorn. You’re going to panic at first. Isn’t there more popcorn than cookie dough? Trust. This will work. Fold the popcorn into the cookie dough.

Refrigerate the cookie dough for at least 1 hour before baking. (Honestly, overnight works best. But are you willing to wait?)

Baking the cookies. Heat the oven to 350°. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Scoop heaping-tablespoon-sized mounds of cooke dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Keep the balls of cookie dough about 2 inches from each other. Bake the cookies until the edges are started to crisp up a light brown. The centers will still be soft. (They will harden up after baking.) Allow the cookies to sit on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.


Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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