Popcorn balls in the Fall is a huge Southern tradition right along with caramel apples on a stick and hot apple cider. Growing up my brothers and I could hardly contain ourselves while the popcorn balls were made. I know a lot of people add things to the recipe these days like marshmallows, chocolate and so on but traditionally nothing should be added. I made a batch of these up for my son’s class and I just happened to have some small m&m’s so I went ahead and threw them in. I mean what 5 year old does not like popcorn and m&m’s?
Making popcorn balls can be really tricky if you do not do everything perfect. You have to have a candy thermometer. I have tried making these before without one and failed every time. The syrup has to be at the perfect heat to work. Also one trick that I have learned works well is that you should keep a bowl of water and a dish towel next to you while forming the balls. Every time you form a ball rinse your hands and dry a bit leaving your hands a bit damp. If you do this you will be able to form perfect balls every time.
It also works best to do batches. Who has a bowl to fit 18 cups of popcorn anyway? I think it takes me about 4 batches to complete everything. I pour my completed syrup in a heat proof measuring cup since it’s easier to pour that way. Be very careful when you’re making this the syrup is extremely hot. You will not need as much syrup as you would think. Pour a bit over the popcorn and toss with a large spoon (add anything else you may want at this time). You do not want the popcorn drenched in syrup just lightly coated. I also allow mine to get hard in the fridge for about an hour before taking them out.
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
18 cups cooked popcorn (1 cup kernels)
1. In a 4-quart saucepan on high heat add sugar, water, syrup, vinegar and salt. Cook until candy thermometer reaches 225F. Add vanilla, stir.
2. Carefully pour mixture over popcorn, toss and when cool form into balls. Place on wax paper or a non-stick baking mat and allow to cool.
Yields: 30 small popcorn balls or 15 large