Video by Justin Saglio/Harvard Staff

Campus & Community

Eating popcorn at home with Joanne Chang

4 min read

Flour Bakery owner whips up a twist on her popular sticky buns in her home kitchen

In the days before COVID-19, the crush of cars clogging the Southeast Expressway just outside Joanne Chang’s downtown home, a corner loft in Boston’s Leather District, never bothered the baker who prefers biking to and from her Flour bakeries around Boston whenever she can.

The home of Chang ’91 is accented with rows of windows, books on architecture and cooking, a bike in the corner, works of art here and there, along with an occasional whimsical touch including a small plastic T. rex planter on her dining room table sprouting what looks to be some kind of succulent, and a tray filled, unsurprisingly, with stamps of various types of kitchen knives.

The vibe is bright and fun, like Chang herself, who is quick with a laugh and a smile and just as quick to point out that enjoying yourself while you cook or bake is key to finding your inner kitchen Zen. She recently put that philosophy into practice, taking a rare break from her bakeries to prepare something for the Gazette in her own kitchen.

In her streamlined galley she whipped together sticky-bun popcorn, a hack of the wildly popular sticky buns made with brioche dough that shot her to fame when she beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay with her version of the sweet treat in 2007. Chang’s popcorn recipe can be found in her latest cookbook, “Pastry Love,” which honors some of her decadent and delicious favorites more suitable to make at home.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

“What I love about cooking with popcorn is honestly, everybody loves popcorn,” said Chang, who often makes big bowls of it with her husband and Flour co-owner, Christopher Myers. “When I make this recipe, if we don’t end up eating it all and I bring it to work, everybody just dives in.”

Chang has been sharing the pastry love during the pandemic lockdown and continued as things have gradually reopened, hosting a regular live baking session on social media. Each week she posts a recipe on the Flour website then takes viewers through it step by step with a livestream on her Instagram account on Sunday evenings at 7.

Sticky bun popcorn

3 tablespoons vegetable oil (such as canola)
¾ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 cups pecan halves, toasted
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter
¾ cup honey
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place racks in the center and bottom third. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

In a very large pot with a lid, heat the oil over high heat until hot. Add the popcorn kernels, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium-high. Shake the pot every few seconds until you start to hear the popping. As soon as you hear it popping, shake the pot constantly. When the popping slows down to one pop every few seconds, turn off the heat but keep shaking. When you hear one pop every 5 or 6 seconds, remove the pot from the stove and dump the popcorn into a large bowl. Remove and discard any unpopped kernels. Add the pecan halves to the popcorn.

These next few steps go quickly, so be sure to have all the ingredients and equipment at hand. Return the pot to the stove and add the brown sugar and butter. Heat over high heat until the butter melts. The mixture will get foamy and start to color. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, for 3 minutes — the color will deepen a shade and it will smell rich and delicious. Add the honey and bring back to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. (The caramel goo will bubble up and foam a bit from the reaction of the baking soda with the sugar.)

Drizzle the caramel goo over the popcorn-pecan mixture and toss to distribute well, until the popcorn is evenly colored. Spread on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets and switching their positions midway through the baking time, until the nuts are deeply toasted and the popcorn smells fragrant.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets on a wire rack. When the popcorn cools, it will be crunchy and crispy. Break the popcorn into bite-size clusters after it cools.

Sticky bun popcorn can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.