Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like corn syrup. I try to avoid it in anything I buy, which is surprisingly hard to do if you buy anything other than raw fruits and vegetables and unprocessed meat.
Yes, we still buy some prepared foods, but less and less all the time. Jenn complains that I’ve ruined her. She doesn’t even like things any more that she used to love. She’d rather have something good than something quick. (Score.)
But then there’s candy. I know it’s not good for us, and we don’t eat much of it. In fact, Halloween is almost here and we still have some of the girls’ haul from last Halloween in a bowl on the kitchen table. So there are some things I’ll accept in candy that I won’t accept in my everyday cooking.
All of which is a long way of saying — in case you hadn’t guessed already — that these popcorn balls are made with corn syrup. If you’re more anti-HFCS than I am, you can just stop reading right here. But if you know candy is a sometimes food, here’s how to make them.
Pop the popcorn.
Hot air poppers are the only way to go. Everything else is at best messier to clean up and doesn’t pop everything as consistently. At worst, you end up with greasy popcorn before you even add the butter. (Or in this case the caramel.)
Different brands of popcorn pop up very differently, so make sure to measure the first time to make sure you’ve got about the right amount.
Pour it onto several baking sheets lined with wax paper. (We used three sheets.)
Combine the Karo syrup, vinegar, sugar and butter in a pan over medium heat.
Heat, stirring occasionally, until it is 235-245 degrees F. It’s best to use a candy thermometer for this.
If you don’t have one, what you’re looking for is “soft ball” stage. That means when you drip some of the mixture into cold water, it will form a small, soft ball.
Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda, dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water.
Yeah, “Oops.” We were rushing and dumped in the soda before mixing with the water. So Jenn just beat it together really well.
Pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn and stir it in quickly, before it cools.
This will be very sticky when you roll it into balls, so rub a small bit of butter into your hands first.
Correction: Have your children rub butter into their hands, since they really want to do this part anyway.
Just pick up small handfuls of popcorn and press them into round-ish shapes.
You can add sprinkles if you think they need it.
And that’s it.
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.