Weekend Treat

Oscar-Worthy Popcorn

Enjoy Chicago-style caramel and cheddar popcorn while watching the Academy Awards.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Popcorn is an essential part of my movie watching experience. Whether I’m at home or in a theater, there’s generally a bowl/tub of it in arm’s reach. I’m far from alone. Americans, according to the Popcorn Board, enjoy 13 billion quarts of the stuff every year. (That breaks down to 42 quarts per person!)

And as any film fan can tell you, this Sunday is the live telecast of the Academy Awards and, at least in my house, it’s a big snacking occasion. For my watching party, I’m planning on serving something special—it is, after all, the 90th Oscar ceremony. I’ve decided to make homemade Chicago-style popcorn, which is a mix of caramel and cheddar flavored popcorn. (The irresistible concoction can be found around the Windy City at Garrett Popcorn Shops.) If blending sweet and savory popcorn together doesn’t sound appealing you can serve them separately or just make one of the varieties.

Fortunately, I was able to get Shelly Westerhausen and Wyatt Worcel to share a recipe for the treat from their new entertaining book, Platters and Boards, which will be published later this month. It’s a fairly straightforward process and gives you something to do while you watch the endless red-carpet coverage.

I can’t wait for the show and the snacking to begin!

Chicago-Style Caramel and Cheddar Popcorn


2 Tbsp Peanut oil

.5 cup [100 g] Popcorn kernels

Caramel Popcorn

.5 cup [90 g] Lightly packed brown sugar

.25 cup [80 g] Corn syrup

4 Tbsp [55 g] Unsalted butter

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.5 tsp Fine sea salt

.5 tsp Baking soda

.5 tsp Vanilla extract

Cheddar Popcorn

2 Tbsp Unsalted butter

.25 cup [30 g] Cheddar cheese powder

.5 tsp Mustard powder

dash Smoked paprika

dash Fine sea salt


Pour the oil into a large stockpot or saucepan fitted with a lid and place over medium heat. Add two popcorn kernels and let sit until they pop. Once popped, add the remaining kernels, cover, and gently shake the pot back and forth over the heat to toss the kernels as they pop. Continue doing this until all the kernels are popped, which is easiest to determine when there is a 2- or 3-second pause between pops. The time will vary based on how hot your stove is and what kind of pot you are using. Remove from the heat and divide the popcorn evenly between two bowls.

Preheat the oven to 250°F [120°C] and butter a rimmed baking pan.

To make the caramel corn, add half the popcorn to the prepared rimmed baking pan.

Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt to a medium saucepan. Whisk the ingredients together over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble. Let boil, uninterrupted (no stirring), for 5 minutes, or until the mixture turns a deep brown.

Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. Working quickly, pour the caramel over the popcorn in the prepared rimmed baking pan and use two large spoons to mix the popcorn around in the caramel until it’s completely coated. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Remove from the oven and let cool before serving.

Meanwhile, to make the cheddar popcorn, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour over the remaining popcorn in the bowl and toss to coat. Add the cheddar powder, mustard powder, paprika, and salt and toss until completely coated. (Having trouble finding reputable cheddar cheese powder at your local grocery store? No problem: Use the cheese packet that comes in boxed macaroni and cheese (and then save the pasta for another use.)

To serve, combine the caramel and cheddar popcorns in a large bowl and toss to mix. Best enjoyed right away.

Reprinted from Platters and Boards by Shelly Westerhausen and Wyatt Worcel with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018.