Popcorn is definitely a rock star in the world of thrifty foods. It’s quick to prepare, it’s super-cheap and (depending on what you add to season it) it can be pretty virtuous in the nutrition front, too. Oh, and it is also delicious. Once you start buying microwave popcorn bags, though, these virtues evaporate. The cost is significantly higher, and there are lots of dubious artificial additives, sodium and saturated fats. I wondered if there wasn’t a way to use the undeniable convenience of the microwave, but with just plain old bulk popcorn kernels. The result is the fancy origami fold up contraption you see here. I do promise to post a simpler version soon (I recognize that not everyone harbors a secret paper-folding obsession, like me.)
The first challenge for a microwavable bag: what material to use. It’s easy enough to find microwavable paper (wax paper, parchment, oiled brown paper), but any adhesives that would close a bag (staples, glue) would definitely not work in the microwave. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to use paper folding as a structural technique to make an attractive and functional microwavable bag. My first attempt was making popcorn in the first origami model I ever learned: a paper balloon. It worked brilliantly. The popcorn popped and inflated my balloon perfectly. The only problem was that the serving size was a little small to be practical (just about a cup of popped kernels from a standard sized roll of wax paper). And I couldn’t help but imagine an attractive origami model that popped up into a perfect popcorn bag. After many, many crumpled up sheets of paper (and a few messy spills in the microwave), I finally worked out this design. It works, it’s cute, and heck, it’s even reusable! I’ve made a few of these as gifts– I love the idea of giving someone a card that they can microwave and turn into a snack. I even designed some cute tags to attach with instructions for popping (pdf attached, just scroll down to the bottom of the page). These little guys work beautifully as a favor or hostess gift. And you can jazz them up by adding a little seasoning packet to go with them.
a 12″x18″ piece of plain (not recycled) brown packing paper*
non-stick cooking spray or oil
high-heat cooking oil (such as canola, avocado or grapeseed)
Cut and Divide Paper
Measure and cut your paper. I used a 12″x18″ rectangle, but you can make a bag that is a little bigger or smaller. Just make sure that the long side is 1 1/2 times as long as the short side.
Divide the long side of your paper by 10, and mark this interval along both sides of your paper. For my sheet, a tenth was 1.8″, so just over the 1 3/4″ mark.
Spray brown paper with non-stick cooking spray or an oil sprayer, or lightly dab the sheet with oil until the surface is even and saturated. Your paper will feel less greasy and be much neater to work with if you use just enough oil to saturate the paper, and if you let the oil sit for an hour or so before folding. If there is any excess (shiny) oil remaining when you want to fold, use a paper towel to blot the paper.
Zig-zag fold your sheet of paper aligned with the markings you made earlier. You should now have a zig-zagged piece of paper with ten equal rectangles. It’s easy to rush this step, but the more precise you are with these set-up folds, the prettier your card will turn out.
Fold into a Tube
Fold zig-zagged paper over to make a tube. There should be 4 equal sides to the tube with a crease in the middle of each side. One side will be an overlap of the ends, so it will be double thickness. I’m calling the side with the overlapping paper the bottom, and the side opposite the top. Pleat the sides and lay the tube flat. It should look something like a paper lunch bag.
Make Diagonal Creases
Fold the rectangle in half, forming a crease down the center. Use this crease to align a diagonal, and crease along that diagonal line. Make another diagonal crease going the opposite direction.
Use these two diagonals to align a vertical crease– this crease will mark a square. Use this crease to align two more diagonal folds along the edge of the paper.
Repeat these folds on the other side.
Open the Ends
Your model now has 2 complete squares in the center, flanked by a little more than half of another square. Make a vertical crease through the middle of one of the center squares (see pictures). Fold the whole side of the model straight up. Stick your hand inside the edge of the model and open the ends of the model as you would open a paper bag. Spread the folds out along the creases until the model has a flat, square base (think the bottom of a paper bag) with four sides sticking directly up.
Repeat with the other side.
Close the Ends
Fold each edge of the “paper bag” sides down and over to the right. Because these pieces interlock, you might have to unfold and refold to get all of the fold to lie flat. Eventually each corner crease should align with a side of the square base. Now the sides will interlock into a pinwheel configuration.
Tuck the Ends Under
Each pinwheel has four flaps. Unfold one flap and ,starting at the outside edge, fold the flap underneath to align with the diagonal crease. Make a second fold, this time starting at the center of the pinwheel. Again, fold the flap in half, aligning the edge with the diagonal crease. Fold the flap back to its original position.
Continue on to the next flap, making the same two folds. Work your way through all the flaps in this manner until all the edges are neatly tucked under and you have an attractive pinwheel pattern.
Repeat with the other side.
Unfold one end of the model so that the end is sticking up. Lightly coat 1/4c. popcorn kernels in cooking oil and sprinkle with 1/2 t. salt** (optional). Scoop the kernels in so that they fall into the cavity of the model. Shake and rearrange the bag so that the kernels are evenly distributed. Refold end as before along existing creases.
Lay bag flat, with the folded ends facing up. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, until there are 5 seconds between pops. Now your bag will have inflated and filled with tasty popcorn! Sprinkle with desired seasonings and shake closed bag to distribute the seasonings.
*There are lots of tutorials out there suggesting that you can use an ordinary brown paper bags to make popcorn in the microwave (including one published in the New York Times). Paper bags are convenient, to be sure, but I had a hunch that they might not be entirely safe for cooking. Turns out the USDA agrees with me. Their guidelines advise against using brown paper bags. Recycled paper and adhesives can release fumes when exposed to heat, that you wouldn’t necessarily want in your food. The USDA suggests buying paper bags made particularly for cooking (only I haven’t been able to locate any). Obviously you’ve got to make the call about what cooking materials you feel safe using. Paper can be safe for cooking, and coating it in oil (as I suggest) reduces the risk of scorching. But you do want to avoid extra, nasty chemicals that might be used to process them. I used (not recycled) brown packing paper. My best guess is this is about as safe a cooking paper as you can find, and I’m comfortable using it. The call is obviously yours.
You can also make this design using wax paper or parchment paper, though it is flimsier and harder to fold. If you decide to make this bag out of wax or parchment paper, you’ll have to make a few modifications to the process. First cut two identical sheets of wax/parchment paper. Skip the oiling step parchment and wax paper don’t need to be oiled. Complete the zigzags folds separately out of each sheet of paper. Fold both pieces of paper into a tube. Once you have 2 paper tubes, slide one inside the other, staggering the overlapped side. So the top of the innermost tube will be next to the bottom of the outermost tube. From this point on fold the two sheets together as if they were one.
**You might be tempted to add other seasonings to your popcorn when you are filling the bag. (I was). From experience, it is better to add seasonings after you have popped the corn. It is very difficult to evenly distribute any seasonings in a way that does not cause them to burn in the microwave. If you are making the pop up card as a gift and want to add flavor, make a little envelope and fill it with seasonings to add afterward.