My mother always tells stories of how people would make homemade popcorn balls and give them out at Halloween when she was a kid, but now everyone’s too afraid to take anything that isn’t wrapped and factory sealed.
I try to make healthy versions of recipes for sweets, but some things are just going to be those once-in-a-while treats that aren’t that great for you. It helps if you use organic corn syrup and organic popcorn seed. Unless it’s organic, corn is genetically modified and sprayed with more chemicals than I care to think about. I’d like to think that raw sugar and vegan butter make this a little better as well. All in all, they’re popcorn balls. They’re sugary, salty, and delicious. I’ve seen recipes that use agave nectar, but I haven’t tried those yet. I read it doesn’t yield the same flavor. Just don’t eat the whole recipe and you’ll be fine. 🙂
To pop the corn kernels, I like to air pop them in the microwave. This is really easy. Just take a brown paper bag (like the ones kids used to take their lunches to school in, back in the day when it was safe to eat popcorn balls from your neighbor), add 1/4 cup popcorn kernels, and roll the top of the bag up twice (small folds). Place in the microwave for 2 minutes. You don’t need oil or anything! Just the paper bag and popcorn!
I do this twice and that gives me enough popcorn for this recipe. Make sure to toss out any un-popped kernels so that no one has to take a trip to the dentist!
Makes about 1 dozen baseball-sized popcorn balls
9 cups popcorn (popped)
1/3 cup organic light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (or so) cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/2 cup add-ins like dark chocolate chips, peanuts, or dried fruit (optional)
Spray a big bowl with cooking spray and place your popped corn in the bowl.
In a saucepan, heat the corn syrup, water, vinegar, sugar, and salt over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is melted and then turn the heat up to medium-high. You want the mixture to boil, but you don’t want to burn it. My stove dial goes from 1-10 and I leave it on 8.
Simmer the mixture on medium-high heat for about 5-6 minutes. You want it to reach the hard ball candy stage. You can test this by letting a small drop fall off your spatula into a bowl of water. If the drop forms a ball, it’s ready.
Add in the cinnamon. I didn’t measure; I just lightly shook a layer of cinnamon over the surface of the sugar mixture. Now stir in the butter and vanilla until smooth and then immediately pour over the popcorn. This is where you’ll want to add in any extras like fruit or nuts. Start folding the popcorn over in the bowl, mixing well until everything is coated. As the sugar cools, this will become a little difficult, but just keep at it. After about 3 minutes, the mixture will still be warm, but not too hot to handle.
Rub a little butter on your hands and take handfuls of popcorn and press them into balls with your hands. I found that I had to re-butter my hands every 2 balls or so. Place on lightly oiled foil or wax paper to cool for about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container or wrap individually in plastic wrap or cute gift bags.
NOTE: When you’ve reached the bottom of the popcorn bowl, the sugar will basically be cooled into a nice hard cement! Just put the bowl in the sink and fill with hot water. The sugar will re-melt so that you can rinse and wash the bowl clean.