Chocolate Caramel Popcorn Bark with Bacon, Pecans and Chili

I crave hot buttered popcorn all the time. No, not the convenient microwavable type, but the back-to-basics-on-the-stove kind with salt and lots of butter. Next time you have a popcorn craving, make extra and try this amazingly simple flavor-in-your-face recipe that pairs all my favorite tastes and textures.
  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 20 min
  • Prep: 10 min
  • Inactive: 30 min
  • Cook: 40 min
  • Yield: Enough for a crowd
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6 cups freshly popped popcorn (do not use microwave popcorn!)

1/4 cup cocoa nibs

1 cup pecan halves

2 teaspoons kosher salt; more as needed

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle powder

Pinch of ground cloves

8 ounces thick cut applewood smoked bacon, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped and reserved; set pod aside

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 pound dark chocolate, melted and kept warm


Special equipment:
2 well-oiled large soupspoons 2 sheet pans with nonstick liners (or lightly spray the pans) Well-oiled offset spatula
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a large nonporous bowl, combine the popcorn (fish out any unpopped kernels), cocoa nibs, pecans, salt, and spices. Mix well; set aside.
  3. Cook the bacon in a skillet, stirring until all the pieces are well cooked and crisp. Drain well. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat and set aside. Add crisped bacon to the bowl and stir.
  4. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water with the sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla seeds. Heat on low heat until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high and boil until the caramel is amber in color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, whisk in the heavy cream, reserved bacon fat, and vanilla bean pod.
  5. Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn. Discard the vanilla bean pod. Using the oiled spoons, mix well. Divide between the 2 sheet pans. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the popcorn is shiny and the caramel is golden brown. Stir once or twice to ensure the caramel is evenly distributed.
  6. Remove from oven; let cool on a rack. Once cool, break into large pieces. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the pieces. Store in an odor-free airtight container in the refrigerator. Best if eaten within one week.

Cook’s Note

Savory option: Omit the chocolate drizzle, add 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin with the spices, and sprinkle Maldon sea salt over the pans while still hot from the oven. Once cool, break up into smaller pieces and serve as a cocktail snack.

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