Tuesday, February 2, 2010

slightly-healthier popcorn balls

I made popcorn balls for the first time today.

I never liked them as a kid, but last night they were all I could think about. I needed them.

So today I pulled out my trusty Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the only one out of my 2 dozen or so cookbooks to actually have a popcorn ball recipe...), and set about making some modifications:

We buy our organic popcorn kernels from the bulk section at Ozark Natural Foods. I popped them on the stove-top in our hand-cranked kettle corn popper with just enough oil to keep them from burning/sticking.

Instead of refined white sugar, I used Sucanat (dehydrated cane juice...also from the bulk section at our co-op). In recipes it can be used 1:1 for standard granulated sugar. Sucanat gives the candy a lovely caramel flavor and color.

I'd like to try this with agave nectar instead of the corn syrup, but since we were out of the former, and I randomly had some corn syrup, that's what I used.

It's finished with a splash of vanilla extract. I use Frontier's fair trade organic vanilla.

The result is delicious. They are caramelly, not too sweet, and just the right amount of salty. And I made them a more manageable golf-ball-size instead of the baseball-size-monsters I remember from childhood.

Slightly - Healthier Popcorn Balls
  • 18 cups popped popcorn (roughly 1 1/2 cups unpopped kernels)
  • 2 cups Sucanat sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup (or agave nectar...there's always next time)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Softened butter


  • Roasting pan or other large oven-safe container
  • Large, heavy saucepan
  • Candy thermometer
  • Stirring utensil
  • Parchment-lined (or lightly oiled) baking sheet
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Pop popcorn and transfer 18 cups of it to a lightly-oiled roasting pan or other oven-safe container. I made a little extra, which Liam and I snacked on while we finished making the popcorn balls. Place pan in the oven to keep the popcorn warm.
  2. Combine Sucanat, water, corn syrup, vinegar, and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil, about 5-6 minutes.
  3. Clip-on candy thermometer and reduce heat to medium (or whichever temperature your stove needs to keep the mixture at a gentle rolling boil...mine was more at medium-low). Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to 250 degrees, the "hard ball" stage. This takes about 20 minutes.
  4. As soon as it reaches 250 degrees, turn off the heat, remove the thermometer, and stir in the vanilla. Remove the popcorn from the oven and carefully pour the candy mixture over the popcorn, stirring gently to evenly coat.
  5. Allow it to cool just enough so you can handle it. Don't wait too long because the candy hardens as it cools. I took a quick potty break, 2-3 minutes, and it seemed just the right amount of time.
  6. Rub butter on your hands (this mix is sticky...) and quickly form the popcorn mixture into golf-ball sized rounds, placing them on the parchment-lined baking sheet as you go. You have to work quickly to make it through all 18 cups of popcorn before it is too hard to stick to itself. It's not difficult to do, but you can't take a coffee break in the middle of the shaping...
  7. They are ready to eat right away. I put mine in the cookie jar, or you could individually wrap them as treats to share.


  1. Dorothy, that is an awesome recipe. I've gotta try it . . . last night around, oh 10:00 pm, all I wanted was some Cracker Jack. Ben wouldn't go out and get me any . . . so, this recipe comes at a perfect time!!!

  2. Hey, that's what was waiting for me when I got home today!! You are too kind! And sooo creative! Yummy yummy. Thank you so much, nayb!

  3. sounds amazing!

    i've never tried agave, but i've read some discouraging things recently. apparently, it's extremely processed and contains significantly more fructose than high fructose corn syrup...