miso black sesame caramel corn

This began pretty harmlessly; my husband told me recently that whatever magic they roll buffalo wings in (basically: a lot of butter and Frank’s hot sauce) was unquestionably one of his favorite flavors on earth. (I put the jar of Nutella in the cabinet on notice.) A few days later, I spotted an ode to buffalo wings in the format of caramel popcorn and sent him the link, joking that I’d probably regret it. I shouldn’t have joked. It quickly became clear that to know that this popcorn existed and to not make was an act of cruelty; why so mean, Deb? Is writing a cookbook, running a website, occasionally cooking dinner and mashing up sweet potatoes for the little sweet potato really a higher kitchen calling than buffalo wing popcorn? And so I made it, but it looked rather sad and lonely in the bowl by itself so then I made some blue cheese dressing on the side with celery to dip into it and, lo, it was wonderful and the story should end here.

the buffalo wing popcorn that started this mess

But you don’t need me to tell you how to make Buffalo Wing Popcorn, Bon Appetit can do that for me. Instead I’ll tell you what happened next which was that the miso I’d picked up for a different recipe started calling to me and I remembered all of the miso caramel sauces that cropped on menus and recipe pages a couple years ago and had to find out what it would do to caramel corn.

adding the butter
adding the miso, work fast
oh, it's a mess all right
to bake

Amazing things, it turns out. Miso is deeply fermented, salty and a little earthy with a depth of flavor that plays off the buttery-sweet-faint bitterness of caramel in a satisfyingly balanced way. With the addition of nutty black sesame seeds, I couldn’t stop eating it and found my allegiances torn. Shouldn’t all stories conclude with a winner? In this frenetic electoral season, don’t we deserve clear conclusions? Well, no, it turns out. It turns out that the answer to which one you should make is both, because why have 8 cups of happiness if you could have 16? You’ll thank yourself on Sunday, when these disappear in a breakneck cacophony of crunch.

miso black sesame caramel popcorn
miso black sesame caramel popcorn

One year ago: Chocolate Oat Crumble
Two years ago: Fennel and Blood Orange Salad
Three years ago: Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Coarse Dijon
Four years ago: Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread
Five years ago: Meatball Subs with Caramelized Onions
Six years ago: New York Deli Rye Bread and Best Cocoa Brownies
Seven years ago: Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad
Eight years ago: Matzo Ball Soup
Nine years ago: Asparagus Artichoke and Shiitake Risotto

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles with Cucumber
1.5 Years Ago: Cold Noodles with Miso Lime and Ginger
2.5 Years Ago: Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini
3.5 Years Ago: Pink Lemonade Bars
4.5 Years Ago: Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey

Miso Black Sesame Caramel Corn
Inspired in no logical way by Bon Appetit

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
1/2 cup plain popcorn kernels
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, in chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons white or red miso
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

Heat oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Lightly coat parchment and a the very largest bowl you own with nonstick spray.

Place 2 tablespoons oil and 2 to 3 kernels in a 3-quart or larger pot. Turn heat to medium-high and cover with a lid. When you hear these first kernels pop, add the remaining kernels and replace the lid. Using potholders, shimmy the pot around to keep the kernels moving as they pop. When several seconds pass between pops, remove from heat. Transfer to coated bowl. You should have about 8 cups popcorn.

Wipe out pot you used to pop corn. Add sugar and water to it, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, only stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil, swirling pan around (wear potholders) until caramel is a deep amber color, which took about 8 to 9 minutes in my already-heated-from-the-popcorn pot. Remove from heat and stir in butter (mixture will hiss and bubble furiously). Return to stove, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, removing from the stove if it appears smoky sooner. Remove from heat and whisk (a whisk will best break it up) in the salt, baking soda and miso.

Quickly pour it over the prepared popcorn and toss to coat. You’ll be glad you used a gigantic bowl. I use two silicone spatulas to mix it up because it’s a messy project and popcorn will want to fall out. Whatever you do, do not pick up any caramel-coated popcorn that falls out unless you like burned fingertips. (Wait until it cools.) Coat popcorn as best as you can, but don’t fret if there are gaps.

Spread popcorn on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle sesame seeds over. Bake in oven, tossing occasionally (which will also help coat any scantily-clad popped kernels) until mixture is dry, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet, then break it up into a large bowl.

Do ahead: Keeps at its very best for 4 hours. Longer, it can be stored in containers or bags at room temperature, but if the day is humid, it might get just a tiny bit sticky. Nobody will care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New here? You might want to check out the comment guidelines before chiming in.

87 comments on miso black sesame caramel corn

  1. I saw the buffalo popcorn recipe and my interest was piqued. Thrilled to hear you gave it a test run and have marked it thumbs up. Have you encountered the buffalo chicken dip at parties? It’s dirty good and I can’t get enough of it.

    I moved from the potato masher to a potato ricer for all the nice winter tubers that have been cropping up. I’m steaming, which seems much more manageable than boiling, and squishing, squishing, squishing. It’s close to using the food mill — three of which I’ve somehow lost in our little kitchen — but I find it easier to handle. Bea has enjoyed mashed rutabaga as well as sweet potato this week. Still trying to decide if I want to make mashed parsnips, or a parsnip and apple soup.

  2. Beth

    Quick question – this looks great, but we have an air popper I like to use for popcorn – can we use that to make the popcorn and proceed from there or is the oil necessary for coating?

    1. Betsy

      I make the Bon Appetit popcorn with the air popper and it is perfect. I don’t love plain air popped popcorn, but think it is perfect for this application. Looking forward to trying it with this recipe!

  3. I’m also interested in the question of popping method; I’d think the sauce would have sufficient fat in it from the butter to be fine with microwaved or air-popped corn? (Also, I’m loving “Inspired in no logical way by…”)

  4. Wife To An Amazing Cook

    This brings back memories… my mom used to make caramel popcorn when I was a kid and would use a brown paper bag (instead of a bowl) to toss/coat the popped corn with the caramel. It coated things perfectly and with little cleanup or escaped kernels, though I’m not exactly sure it was the most hygienic of practices! :)

    I love popcorn a little too much, so both recipes are right up my alley. I’ll be trying both flavors ASAP.

  5. deb

    Air-popped popcorn — Absolutely, you can use this. I added directions for popping popcorn the way I do it, for those who need the intructions.

    Sonia — Baking soda softens the caramel, so we don’t break our teeth on it. :)

    1. deb

      James — Caramel is melted sugar, although we usually think of it as candies and things with other ingredients. Caramel sauce contains cream to keep it loose (and delicious). Butterscotch uses brown sugar instead of white, toffee usually too.

  6. Tiernan

    I’m already cooking too many things for the Super Bowl. Why do you do this to me?! This needs to happen.

    I’ve had good luck in the past making caramel corn with bagged plain popcorn. The internet tells me 1/2 cup of kernels makes 4 quarts (!!) of popcorn – do you find that to be about accurate?

    1. deb

      Tiernan — Re, 1/2 cup to 4 quarts — actually, thanks for mentioning that. I have a different popcorn recipe going in my next book in which, after obsessive testing, I concluded that 1/3 cup kernels yielded 8 cups, not the 1/2 cup BA suggested, so this might be a little high. Not 4 quarts high, though. That would be 16 cups! This is 2 to 2 1/2 quarts, at best. I was disinclined to lower the amount here because it’s easy to end up with unpopped kernels and also different brands pop less enthusiastically; I figure more rather than less is better.

      1. Julia

        Super yummy! Totally worth the burnt finger sustained in the process. I took it a little further by adding nori furikake (which has roasted black sesame in it) to give extra depth and everyone loved it.

  7. Derek

    This is totally unrelated to this post, but I need to say thank you. Your recommendations on brunch brought about my first ever sane have-friends-over-on-the-weekend-for-a-meal-even -with toddlers… and that makes all of the difference. The menu, your Ranchero style eggs being the star, a fruit salad, a toasted goat cheese salad (essentially copied from our favorite pizza place), and my own obsessive combo – a tangzhong method based raspberry sweet roll with your cream cheese frosting. I suppose I am confessing to the same obsession as you on that last one…I mean, why not combine different things I like? All that again to say…thank you thank you thank you!

  8. Jennifer

    Ha…I’d literally bookmarked the Bon Appetit recipe for Buffalo popcorn a few days ago. Looks like I’ll be making two batches of popcorn this weekend…

  9. I’m crazy for the combination of miso and caramel (I made miso caramel candies last fall). It’s like salted caramel’s funky cousin. I’ve never been the biggest caramel corn fan (more of a savory popcorn kinda girl) but this version calls to me.

  10. This looks so so good!! I’m a huge fan of savory sweet popcorn so this looks right up my alley. I don’t have a great pot for popping popcorn on the stove but I just got a new air popper so I’ll have to try this!

  11. I have never liked caramel corn very much, but this may be the caramel corn to change my mind. I did promise myself I’d cook more with miso, so I think it’s only right that I make this. Only right.

  12. kate

    This looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it!

    I finally scored the Smitten Kitchen cookbook for Christmas (it’s been at the top of my list for a while) and everything we’ve made out of it is amazing! It’s my new go-to for dinner :)

  13. Liz

    I recently had some incredible miso vanilla butter with a goat cheese stuffed corn bread. Sounded so odd at the time, but the umami and the sweet really works. This looks great!

  14. Ashley

    It’s like you know my soul, Deb. Buffalo sauce, caramel sauce (with miso! I’ve been longing to try, but haven’t found a way to actually use it), popcorn. Thank you!

  15. Derek

    Yes, that is the basis of the dough. I like that it isn’t as sweet and is really light and fluffy, but then I had to adjust all the measurements to make it the right amount (I think this last time I multiplied by 1.5 and I added a little more sugar and some whole wheat flour in the dough). The filling part is frozen raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch so that it doesn’t leak all out based off of this recipe. We used the thick cream cheese frosting from your maple cream cheese frosting recipe, sans maple syrup. The balance between tart raspberry, light and fluffy mildly sweet bread, and deliciously rich cream cheese frosting…mmm. I’m sorry in advance for the suffering you will endure if you make these. :)

  16. My family pays piles of money every summer beach vacation for huge buckets of our favorite caramel corn and then proceed to devour it all until we’re sick, but then go back for more! Now I can make my own , thanks to you and even better with miso sesame, you kill me with stuff like this! Miso & popcorn, two of my favorite things So perfect sounding, but who would’ve thought? Love it.

  17. I love the way your mind works — this sounds amazing. I made a caramel corn earlier this year, and found it very difficult to toss the corn with the sauce – it clumped on portions and others were dry. Any tips on how to mitigate that?

  18. Khendra

    I am not into miso and I really did not want to have so much work with a snack yesterday. But your post left me craving popcorn and I remembered some at least 10 year old popcorn kernels in my pantry. Found them and tried them, even though everyone says that old kernels don’t pop. I can assure you, they do. And I had a wonderful evening with my bowl of (very ordinary sugared) popcorn, so thanks for the inspiration! And everyone with old kernels in the cupboard: use them, it works really okay. And I don’t think there are people around with popcorn kernels older than mine.

  19. Rebecca

    Makes me think of Chicago popcorn. Carmel corn mixed with cheese corn. Both super rich and buttery with the big fluffy kernels!

  20. Celia

    A small style note: “Buffalo” here should be capitalized, as the foods named are named so for the city, rather than the animal. Thanks.

  21. deb

    Jess — I just asked him and he said “NO” all poutily like how come I knew about them (for all of 3 seconds) and hadn’t bought them yet?

    Celia — Oooh, this is interesting because I didn’t use the capital B after learning recently that the F needn’t be capitalized in french fries and figured a similar rule applies here. But apparently the AP disagrees? Talk to me, grammar-heads. I want to know why one and not the other!

    Sage — I think it helps it dry out, especially because miso is a little tacky otherwise (not in style, texture, heh). But if you find it’s firm and dry to the touch without, you can skip it.

  22. Sarah

    Wait. You had to make a special effort to obtain miso and then had miso left over? It’s a level-three emergency if my kitchen is out of miso. (In other words, hooray for more miso recipes! Might I suggest some miso-tahini dips or dressings with the remnant? If you’ve never tossed a cooked vegetable in miso-tahini-butter, you probably need to make that for dinner this week, for the sake of your miso-sesame-loving self.)

  23. JanetP

    Mmmmm. I recently discovered Indian-spiced popcorn, which is AMAZING, and if you can figure out a recipe for that, Deb, I will love you forever and ever.

    1. MER

      I’ve become addicted to a curry popcorn (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey): put popped corn in bowl; sprinkle with butter or oil, salt, sugar, and curry powder. Include a little cayenne if your curry powder isn’t hot enough. Sometimes I use a purchase dry ‘coconut chutney powder’ that caught my eye in the Indian store. The salty/spicy/sweet combo is amazing.

  24. Lara

    In regards to grammer, I believe that Buffalo is a proper noun whereas the ‘french’ in french fry refers to the style in which the potato was sliced and is, therefore, not a proper noun. Similar to a frenched rack of pork/lamb/etc.

  25. I had never heard of buffalo wing caramel popcorn. Now that I have, my husband has begun pleading for me to make it. I want the miso caramel version. Guess what I will be making tomorrow?

  26. Lizzie

    I just made this for my non-Super Bowl snack and it turned out great! I love miso but 2 tbsp was a bit much for me; next time I’ll probably just use one. It was so gratifying to make my own caramel from scratch and not burn it…or myself!

  27. Tried this on the weekend and although I think I added too much miso (not measuring properly) it was addictive and all disappeared in front of an episode of Scandal (in which the only food groups are Red Wine and Popcorn). BUT your title made me wonder if this would work with tahini or goma (black sesame paste) one of my favourite ingredients in sweet/salty baking…. will report back if it works. Thank-you for inspiration as always!

  28. Pamela

    Thanks so much for this Deb! Been reading you and cooking your recipes for almost 9 years now (discovered your site in college). I doubled the recipe for my SB50 party last night (GO BRONCOS!!!!!! Good day to live in Denver. :)) and it was a huge hit! Only a small amount was left over, perfect for my Monday snack. Thanks again!!!

  29. Laura M

    Deb — I saw this recipe and decided to make it for our home Superbowl viewing yesterday. So when I went to the downstairs computer to print it out, I typed “smittenkitchen popcorn” into Google, and up popped the recipe… or so I thought. What actually came up was and I made it, to everyone’s delight. (At one point I said, “Wait… isn’t there supposed to be miso?” But I pressed on with the recipe to hand.)

    Your “sipcy caramel popcorn” recipe turned out PERFECTLY! I was doubtful that “combining the sugar, butter, salt and water without stirring” would work, but it blended itself all by itself so beautifully. My niece and I added the baking soda and cayenne (bubbles!), stirred, and then the gorgeous dark liquid covered the popcorn nicely. Then we spread it out — it took up THREE normal-sized cookie sheets, on which I’d put aluminum foil — and broke it up. It tastes even better today than yesterday!

    SO… imagine my surprise to look at your blog just now and find the miso recipe structured so differently!

    I’m curious: why are you now stirring the caramel as it cooks, and adding the butter later? (I also note that you include the water in the list of ingredients above, although six years ago you told a reader that “water is not commonly listed in recipe ingredients.”)

  30. Miyo

    Hi Deb! I just made this (I burned it in the oven a little…) and it’s the first time I’ve air popped popcorn. I noticed that initially the popcorn was disappointingly chewy, but became the texture I’m familiar with after being in the oven. I looked at your spicy caramel recipe and was wondering if it would benefit from that too?
    Also given how this turned out, do I still need to grease all my equipment for the spicy caramel? I didn’t find it a problem when I used silicone.
    Thanks! I can’t wait for your new book to come out!

  31. deb

    Laura — Caramels that begin with water aren’t stirred as they caramelize because it leads to crystal formation. Here, you’re only stirring while the sugar is dissolving, so it’s fine. You could also skip stirring the sugar and water together and it would be no harm. Butter can be added at either point, but I actually prefer it at the end so you can better taste it. Water is almost never listed in ingredients in standard recipe writing; 6 years later, I know people prefer it in the ingredient list regardless and add it.

    Miyo — I agree, I wondered it it would benefit from some oven time at the end — it certainly doesn’t harm it although here, it’s mostly added because miso will form a stickier caramel that is improved by oven time.

  32. mj

    i made this today but i substituted 3/4c maple syrup for the sugar and water. it is the best caramel popcorn i’ve ever tried. thank you!

  33. Helen

    Re: to capitalize or not….the Buffalo in Buffalo Wings is capitalized because they originate in Buffalo, New York, a city. You don’t have to capitalize the “french” in fries, because in is an adjective, not a noun like “France”. Best guess here!

  34. Elisabeth

    i made this today to celebrate another snow day! i used 1/2 c coconut sugar and 1/4 c maple syrup with no water to make the “caramel” and it all worked perfectly.

    1. Cate

      Wow I botched this one :-/ I have made your other caramel popcorn a lot, but this time I let the caramel cook too long and basically ruined it. So maybe err on the side of undercooking caramel @ everyone else!

  35. Lizzie

    Hey Deb — I am currently eating some popcorn that I made after reading this nyt article:
    I’m deeply unhappy with it(it calls for a ridiculous amount of oil, and my popcorn has a heavy and greasy mouth feel) and I found myself wanting to know all of your popcorn thoughts so I went to your latest popcorn recipe and here I am.
    So, how do you make run of the mill popcorn? How do you make it buttery? Do you use ghee? I’d love your thoughts :)

    1. deb

      Thanks for trying it so I don’t have to. :) Two ways: I do the stovetop thing exactly as written here. Or, friends got us an air-popper for Christmas and it’s kind of the best thing in the world. In both cases, I pour some melted butter over while it’s still warm (of course I do) and use fine sea salt to season. My favorite unusual popcorn is the kale pecorino popcorn in Smitten Kitchen Every Day.

  36. Reney

    I was thinking some ginger might be good in this, but I wasn’t sure at what point in the recipe or what from to add. Thoughts?

  37. Dani

    Absolutely adored this! Substituted about half of the water for fish sauce and it added this next level of umami. Vegan margarine worked fine in place of the butter although I would cut back or leave out the kosher salt if using it as I find it saltier. Didn’t have parchment paper so I greased a nonstick pan and baked the popcorn for 8 minutes and then it sit to firm up. Will definitely be making it again.

  38. Woweee this was intense and great. Normally not a caramel corn fan—too cloyingly sweet!—but loved this due to the deep color of the caramel and, of course, the funky-umami flavor of the miso.

    One thing: my corn started to burn after only 8 minutes in the oven! Could be that I have a crummy rental oven in a crummy rental kitchen, but still: I might either put it in on a slightly lower heat or check it after five minutes just to make sure it’s baking as described.

  39. Lisa

    I’m a huge fan of black sesame ice cream. Wondering if it might work well to grind black sesame and mix it in to obtain that peanutty taste a bit more. If so, when would you recommend adding it? I don’t want it to burn.

    1. deb

      I love the flavor too, but I’ve never added it to caramel corn — if you have a peanut butter caramel corn recipe you like, a similar method might work here. But I’m not sure otherwise that the caramel will set up the same.

  40. EL

    I’ve made this twice now and both times made mistakes. The first time my dark amber caramel was a bit too dark (easy enough to fix), and the second my caramel was the perfect color, but seemed to seize and was dull and crystal-filled instead of like it should be! Any tips to avoid that? I’m determined to figure this out because despite the errors, this still tastes marvelous!