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Adding Unusual Flavors to After-School Treats: From Cumin to Curry, Miso to Sesame Oil

Afterschool snacks can cater to more than just the kids. A few simple, sophisticated tweaks to classic treats — popcorn and peanut butter cookies — creates snacks everyone will enjoy.

Peanut butter cookies are tasty, but can be one-dimensional and too sweet. Looking for a bit of balance, we were inspired by the wildly popular peanut butter cookies from Falco Bakery in Melbourne, Australia. Their surprise ingredient is brown rice miso, which combats the sweetness of a normal peanut butter cookie and heightens the nuttiness.

Our adaptation substitutes white miso, which is easier to find and adds interesting depth to make the cookies taste full and complex. A sprinkle of turbinado or raw sugar adds a little crunch to the chewy texture for a savory but balanced treat.

Because sodium content varies greatly among brands of miso, look for one with about 300 milligrams per 12 grams of miso (check the nutrition facts on the label). And don’t use natural peanut butter. Differences in fat and sugar content brand to brand may impact the cookies’ texture and flavor, so regular chunky or crunchy peanut butters such as Skippy or Jif are best.

For another snack, we update simple buttered popcorn using a common South Asian technique to spice it up in about the same time it takes to pop the kernels. Called tarka, it involves blooming herbs and spices in hot fat to add bold flavor and texture to basic dishes, typically sautéed greens, lentil stews and steamed vegetables.

It’s also a perfect match for popcorn. The cumin and curry blend in this recipe is bold and savory; if you or your little ones prefer a mixture of sugar and spice, see the spicy-sweet tarka popcorn alternative below. For kids averse to heat, you might want to tone down or eliminate the cayenne pepper.

To make the amount of popcorn called for in these recipes without special equipment, in a large saucepan, combine ⅓ cup popcorn kernels with 1 tablespoon neutral oil. Cover and heat over medium-high until the kernels begin to pop, then reduce to medium and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the popping slows to 3 to 4 seconds between bursts.

Spiced butter popcorn

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Makes 6 cups


6 to 7 cups popped popcorn (see note)
3 tablespoons salted butter
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon white sugar
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt


Place the popcorn in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high, heat the butter until almost fully melted. Add the cumin, curry powder, fennel, sugar and cayenne, then cook, swirling, until aromatic and the butter is foamy, 30 to 45 seconds. Immediately pour over the popcorn, then sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons salt and toss. Taste and season with additional salt.

For spicy-sweet popcorn

Place 6 to 7 cups popcorn in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high, heat 3 tablespoons butter until almost fully melted. Add 2 teaspoons packed light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, then cook, swirling, until aromatic and the butter is foamy, 30 to 45 seconds. Immediately pour over the popcorn, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and toss. Taste and season with additional salt.

Peanut butter–miso cookies

Start to finish: 50 minutes, plus chilling and cooling

Makes 1½ dozen cookies


252 grams (1¾ cups plus 3 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature
199 grams (1 cup) packed dark brown sugar
122 grams (½ cup plus 1 tablespoon) white sugar
88 grams (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) chunky peanut butter (see note), room temperature
75 grams (¼ cup) white miso
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil or roasted peanut oil
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
62 grams (⅓ cup) turbinado sugar


In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and white sugar on medium-high until well combined, about 3 minutes. Add the peanut butter, miso and oil, then beat, scraping the bowl once or twice, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again, then scrape the bowl.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture. Mix, scraping the bowl as needed, just until the dough is evenly moistened, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a spatula, mix the dough by hand to ensure no pockets of flour remain; the dough will be very soft. Press a sheet of plastic wrap against the surface of the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Line two baking sheets with kitchen parchment. Put the turbinado sugar in a small bowl. Divide the dough into 18 portions, about 3 tablespoons each, then roll into 1½-inch balls. Dip each in the turbinado sugar to coat one side; set sugared side up on the prepared baking sheet, nine per sheet. Bake one sheet for 10 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and firmly rap it twice against the counter to deflate the cookies. Bake for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cookies have fissured and are golden at the edges. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the cooling rack and cool completely. Meanwhile, repeat with the second batch of cookies.

Source: The Washington Times Food Section

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