Taking popcorn to the next level

For the Tribune Cooks feature, I have largely been trying to replicate dishes I have tried at restaurants. This is mostly because I don’t get to go out to eat that much, especially at fancy-schmancy places, and partially because the dishes I have at said fancy places linger in my memory long after my teeth are brushed for the night.

One dish I’ve had recently that I couldn’t stop thinking about eating, imagining eating, wishing I had delivered right to my door, is the popcorn pot du creme from Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland. It is a sweet, salty custard-type dessert that melts in your mouth and stays burned into your taste memory for days.

I’ve attempted recipes from this place before. Of course, nothing is better than the real thing, especially when you don’t have to do the dishes. But this dessert seemed too intricate to attempt by guesswork alone, as desserts rely more on exact measurements and whatnot. Luckily, shortly before Christmas, the restaurant released the coveted recipe, and I gave it a whirl.

Baking in a water bath was something I hadn’t done before, and the only trick is to get the water-filled dish out of the oven without spilling. Be careful. Another trick was procuring ramekins; some mismatched mugs will do in a pinch. Custard relies on good timing, so make sure you keep an eye on the oven so the pots don’t curdle.

The result is a savory dessert that’s perfect for a cold day. It wouldn’t seem that sauteing popcorn would leave much of a flavor, but it does. Just make sure you don’t use any burnt kernels, or that’s what you’ll taste. It’s like a rich caramel corn toffee.

The published recipe calls for homemade caramel, but I used some I had in the fridge. Don’t tell. Butterscotch would work too. You can also use microwave popcorn instead of popping the kernels in butter. The Food Network Police won’t come to your house.