I enjoy popcorn balls. I REALLY enjoy Halloween. And ever since my grandmother gave us those pre-wrapped popcorn balls in black and orange packaging, I’ve associated them with the spooky holiday. Now, I say I “enjoy” popcorn balls because there is a wide range of quality, and depending on which kind you get…they may not be all that great.
My main problem with popcorn balls: They are dry and hard and taste like rice cakes.
My solution: Use a caramel sauce to bind them together–not a hard-candy sugar mixture that will cool to be crunchy.
So, off I go on my adventure, and I realize “WAIT, I can get MORE flavor if I use brown sugar–and heck, I even have DARK BROWN sugar. I’ve caramelized brown sugar before, this should be fine!” (Brown sugar is hard to caramelize).
After the dark brown sugar stopped looking like sand, it started looking like peanut butter. Which was the strangest thing. Voila, below:
So, the dark brown sugar wasn’t having it–it burned. It also didn’t help that there were 2 cups of it in my pot. …Essentially, everything was wrong with this first attempt.
Attempt No. 2 is what you have here!
Luscious, smooth, non-burnt caramel sauce with some toasted pecans, too! (I admit, the pecans failed the first time as well. It was an off-day).
Plain ol’ white granulated sugar, and only one cup this time. The only thing left for Attempt No. 3 shall be figuring out how to make them look as shiny and beautiful as they taste. So expect this post to be updated one of these days…
But for now, we have these gorgeous globs of caramel corn!
Trick-or-Treat Halloween Popcorn Balls
Yield: 8 popcorn balls. NOTE: If doubling this recipe, do it in batches so that the pot of sugar isn’t overfilled (lest the bottom burn before the top melts).
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water (I admit this is probably overkill. This will be experimented with in Attempt No. 3 as well)
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 T. butter
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt
3 T. popcorn oil
1/2 c. unpopped popcorn kernels
1 c. pecans (optional)
Make the caramel– with a wooden spoon, stir the sugar and water into a pot over medium heat. Allow to boil and slowly caramelize without much more stirring until it reaches a dark amber color. When this happens, immediately pour in the whipping cream. WATCH OUT FOR YOUR FACE, there will be a lot of steam made as the cream hits the molten sugar–stir to incorporate. Take off of heat and add butter, vanilla, and salt.
Pop the popcorn next. I used a stovetop/campfire popper. Feel free to use any method to pop that corn. Toss any burnt or unpopped kernels.
Toast the pecans, if you are using them, in a pan over medium-high heat. Keep a good eye on them–they burn quickly and require semi-constant stirring to evenly heat through. (Or have patience unlike me and toast them in the oven)
Put the toasted pecans into a large bowl with the popcorn, and drizzle the caramel on top (gently heat the caramel if it has become too hard to pour). Stir everything together with the wooden spoon. Grease a sheet of parchment, and grease your hands as well. Grab about a cup of popcorn with your hands and shape it into a ball, placing it on the parchment-lined sheet to cool. Re-grease your hands as needed.
Enjoy sticky and warm, or shaped and cooled!