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Sweet cover

© Sam Linsell


Sam Linsell

Struik Lifestyle

Review: Lesley Byram

Why yes, I do like caramel. Why do you ask?

If you tried the recipe we shared recently for Sarah Dall’s salted caramel you’ll understand why it’s hard to move on.

I’m always keen to try things I haven’t tried before, especially when the flavour combinations are already firm favourites. And I was going to skip over the salted caramel recipe in Sam Linsell’s recently launched second cookbook, Sweet. That is, until I tasted it at a Cape Times event at which she recently gave a demonstration.

Now, I’m a believer in not messing with recipes that already work. Why, for instance, fiddle with crème brûlée when the original recipe is already perfect? Why add caramel to crunchy, fresh popcorn? Better still, why add popcorn to perfectly good caramel?

With good reason, it turns out. I used to enjoy the ready made caramel popcorn until I realised it tastes as though it’s made with margarine. Nothing on earth deserves to be made with margarine.

Sam’s recipe is for spicy salted caramel popcorn. I wasn’t sure about that. Cinnamon I can understand but this recipe includes cumin and paprika and if I hadn’t been at her demonstration I would have given it a miss. It’s just not a combination I could imagine going with caramel. I was wrong.

You don’t taste the paprika but there is a subtle hint of cumin which really adds to the deliciousness of the caramel.

03_SaltedCaramelPopcornI decided to make a batch for a friend who loves caramel popcorn to see if it really is as easy to make as Sam made it appear.

I didn’t look at the clock but I don’t think it took more than 15 minutes in total.

Sam’s tips were useful. Use a neutral flavoured oil – I used the neutral flavoured coconut oil. Put the oil and the popcorn kernels in the pot together and then heat. Pop on the lid and wait for the oil to heat up. It doesn’t take long at all for the kernels to start popping. Listen closely and, when there is a two to three second gap between poppings, remove it from the heat. Any longer than that and you risk burning it.

Put it in a large bowl, making sure there are no unpopped corn kernels in the bowl.

Many will say that the trick to making caramel is not to stir the sugar, butter and syrup mix while it’s boiling. Sam disagrees. While it is important not to have sugar crystals on the side of the pot (wash them off with a pastry brush dipped in water), Sam says continuously stirring prevents some parts from going darker than others or becoming bitter.

Once you’ve added the vanilla and spices and mixed it well you can pour it over the popcorn in the bowl. Work fairly quickly when you do this to ensure all the popcorn gets an even coating before the caramel starts to harden. I managed this without any trouble but if you find that some popcorn is without caramel and some clumped together you can put it all in the oven in a roasting pan at 120ºC for a while before stirring again. Stirring with two spoons or spatulas works well. Put the bowl on a rubber mat to stop it moving around your counter top if you don’t have someone to hold it for you – or use a heavier bowl.

Then you can decide whether you want individual popcorn or clumps. Individual pieces look more professional but if you prefer to munch on a clump, why not?

This makes a lovely gift in a pretty jar tied with a ribbon.

spicy salted 
caramel popcorn

Makes 10–12 cups

125 g corn kernels
10 ml coconut oil, or any other neutral oil 
5 ml ground cumin
5 ml ground cinnamon
3 ml paprika
5 ml salt
2 ml bicarbonate of soda
150 g butter
200 g granulated white sugar
30 ml golden syrup
5 ml vanilla extract

This recipe turns ordinary popcorn into something special, worthy of a party. The spice is mild enough to give it an exciting flavour edge, while still suitable for children. You could add more paprika, chilli or cayenne if you want to take the heat up a notch. I use coconut oil when making popcorn – it is a little healthier andgives the  popcorn a lovely flavour – but a neutral oil such as sunflower works equally well.

Preheat the oven to 120 °C. Line a baking tray with silicone or baking paper.

Make the popcorn any way that your prefer. (I like to use a large skillet with a glass lid.) Transfer the popcorn to a large, deep bowl; it should only half fill the bowl, allowing space to toss thesauce.

Mix all the spices and bicarbonate of soda together.

In a medium-size, heavy-based pot bring the butter, sugar and syrup to the boil. Continue to let it bubble, stirring continuously, until the mixture turns golden-brown and reaches the hard crack stage of 155 °C. Add the vanilla extract and spice mix and stir vigorously for a few seconds, then remove from the heat. Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and toss to coat.

Spread the caramel-covered popcorn evenly on the prepared baking tray and bake for 
15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and toss to ensure it’s evenlycoated. Return it to the oven for a further 15 minutes, then remove, toss again and leave to cool.

Once cool, break it up and store in an airtight container.

(Extracted from Sweet by Sam Linsell (Struik Lifestyle). Available at all good book stores, RRP of R250.00)

Scribble, cut out, clip – the art of handcrafting recipe books


Some more delicious home-made recipe books

Taking a look at how people other than my best friend (see here) keep their recipes



“At some point I made the decision not to keep my recipes in a book or a folder, but to keep a box with reference cards. I’ve been using the system since the early nineties and it still works for me. These are a few of the most used recipes. From the selection you can probably deduce that I cook because I must, but I bake because I like to. And that I have a sweet tooth. I have recipes in English, Afrikaans and German.”



CATHERINE: “When I graduated university in Sweden, I had just finished two years studying in Spain, and started this book when I moved back home, while looking for my first job. I knew I would eventually move out and wanted to be able to cook something other than pasta or toast! Also, I really started enjoying food late, in my early 20s, especially after my years in Spain.My mother also has a cookbook with cut-out recipes that she got from magazines and from my father’s mother.

“When I lived in France and Swizerland after university, I cooked some easy recipes, mainly pasta-dishes, but most stores sold the baked goods I liked, and I would go out to eat the other more elaborate foods I liked, so I never had to make it from scratch. When I moved to South Africa, the food here was so different to what I use to eat back home that I started cooking and baking myself. Also, those familiar recipes reminded me of home. The recipes are in Swedish, French, English and Spanish. Most of the ones that were handwritten are those I wrote down from my mother’s recipe book and are in Swedish.”



“I have my mom’s recipe book from her home economics class from the 1950s. Love it and use it to bake. I also have my late dad’s favourite recipe book, in which he ticked off recipes every time he used them. To see his handwriting always pulls at my heart. Both are very, very dear to me.”


larascraps“My recipes are written on scraps of paper stored in my well-used Annabel Karmel cookery book. I only learnt to cook after I had childen and AK has brilliant kids’ recipes. These are recipes I use almost daily, borrowed and adapted from friends/family/the internet/magazines/books/wherever and made my own because they passed the all-important family taste test. If I make something and everyone likes it I write it down and add it to the collection. The book I store them in is quite literally busting at the seams.


The best recipe books are home-baked



DSC01258My best friend S has a lot of cookbooks in her home. Huge, intimidating tomes with food so fancy and obscure the sheer volume, range and possibilities for nourishment make me want to lie down and have a little rest.

But in amongst her voluminous collection I discovered on a recent visit there (she lives in a different city) a hardcover A4 notebook with yellowing pages: her home-made, pieced-together, patchwork of favoured recipes.

She started it just before she left home, neatly cutting out edges for tabs under which to organise found recipes and carefully transcribed instructions from her mother. The outside is a montage of pictures of food cut from recipe books, dating – simply by virtue of stylising and fashion – the book to the late eighties.

DSC01260The book contains more than twenty years’ worth of kitchen experience. But it holds more than that. The crinkle of the dusky pages are a small history of this woman I have loved and respected since the very first day we spoke, hunkered down behind the school gym bunking PT: her neat straight-up handwriting and logical thinking; the choices she made for inclusion and, by extension, for exclusion; the book’s bilingualism, which reminded me that when she moved to South Africa she could only speak English; the little flame of ancestral feeding that’s kept alive here; the testimony to family, friends and food, and to times spent around various tables in various homes – from suburban parental home, to shared digs and rented flats to her first own home, bought carefully and bravely as she started to establish herself in her career.

S’s handmade cookbook – her home-baked, artisanal, lovingly accrued recipe book – is one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid eyes on in ages.

DSC01252I pulled the book from the shelf and paged through it on the new kitchen island in a freshly renovated house structured, appropriately, around a large, airy kitchen in that same house, which she now shares with a man who cooks, undaunted and lovingly, the kind of food for which you have to pay a small fortune in high-end restaurant.

After all the changes, relationships, renovations, after all the years of being an adult, my childhood friend’s handmade book feels like an artefact, a carefully curated collection – a paper umbilicus to that first kitchen where, under her mother’s eye, she topped-and-tailed beans, made stuffings and mixed batters.

I can take or leave large, glossy recipe books, but the tenderness I felt towards S’s home-cooked version leaned towards a most satisfying sentimentality.