Looking for a sweet, salty, crunchy treat that the whole family will love? Try these good, old-fashioned popcorn balls.
With or without food coloring, these easy-to-make treats are a holiday season staple. Everyone loves them, and no one can ever seem to get enough.
Technically, you can make popcorn balls any time of year. But fall and winter are the months when they’re all the rage. They’re excellent make-ahead treats and make delightful gifts.
Add a drop or two of food coloring for something special! Be sure to check out all the variations you can make, too.
Old-fashioned popcorn balls are one of my favorite fall and winter treats.
Not only are they delicious, but they also bring up childhood memories. I still remember standing on a stool in the kitchen, watching my grandma make them.
These treats aren’t just a snack. They’re a craft project, a party favor, and a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Whether you gobble them up or string them on your tree, make popcorn balls a part of your tradition.
You need only seven ingredients for these festive treats:
- Popcorn – Remember to pop the popcorn beforehand, then keep it warm in the oven. Check the size of your popcorn bag to see how many bags you’ll need. Remember, 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels makes approximately 4 quarts of popped popcorn.
- Sugar – Popcorn isn’t a naturally sweet food. Add a little sugar to help sweeten the balls.
- Light corn syrup – Besides holding the balls together, corn syrup also provides a rich, caramel-like flavor.
- Water – Plain tap water is fine.
- Salt – Salt is an excellent flavor enhancer for the other ingredients. I suggest leaving it out if you’re using salted butter.
- Butter – If you’re adding salt to the recipe, be sure to use unsalted butter. Salted may make the recipe too salty.
- Vanilla extract – Like the salt, vanilla acts as a flavor enhancer. It also adds a rich warmth to the balls, making them irresistible.
How to Make Popcorn Balls
Follow these steps to make the most perfect popcorn balls:
1. Pop the popcorn and keep it warm. This recipe requires popcorn that’s already popped. So, either purchase pre-popped popcorn or freshly pop your own.
I prefer popping my own, as store-bought popcorn is cold and quickly goes stale.
Next, place the popcorn on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Make the sugar mixture. This mixture holds your popcorn together, so you must get it right. The easiest way is with a candy thermometer.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a saucepan and cook it over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer to let you know when it’s ready. The reading should be 235 degrees.
Once it is, remove the saucepan from heat and mix in the butter, vanilla, and optional food coloring. Stir until the butter is melted.
3. Combine. Pour the sugar mixture over the warm popcorn. Stir until everything is evenly coated, then let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
4. Shape the balls. Wait until the mixture is cool enough to touch. Then, quickly shape it into 3-inch balls.
5. Let them set. The balls need about 10 minutes to set and harden into shape. After that, you can serve, store, or give them as gifts!
Tips for the Best Popcorn Balls
Popcorn balls are easy to make. But there are still a few tricks to making your popcorn balls the best.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
- The fresher, the better. These have the best texture the day you make them. So I recommend eating them the day of.
- Grease yourself up. The popcorn balls may stick to your hands, making them hard to roll. If this happens, smear some butter or cooking oil on your hands. I know it’s messy, but it works!
- Add extra mix-ins. Chocolate chips, marshmallows, nuts, M&M’s, add anything you like.
- Keep the peanut butter coating warm. The peanut butter mixture can harden quickly. If you’re having trouble forming balls, microwave it for about 15 to 30 seconds. But just once because it will burn.
- Pick out the unpopped kernels. Unpopped kernels are inevitable when making popcorn. Be sure to pick them out before you make these treats. Otherwise, you’ll bite into an unwelcome surprise.
- Use a white corn syrup substitute. Not everyone keeps corn syrup on hand. So you can swap it for another sticky sweetener like maple syrup or honey.
There are also many variations you can try to make them even more festive. Here are some of my favorites:
- Sweeten them up. Mix M&Ms, chocolate chips, peanuts, and more into the popcorn mixture. They’ll give you extra flavor, color, and texture. Rainbow sprinkles are another cute option.
- Get creative with flavors. You don’t have to stick to plain buttered popcorn. You can also use caramel corn, kettle corn, or something entirely different!
- Add a pop of color I mentioned red and green for Christmas and black and orange for Halloween. However, you can make these balls any color you like to tailor them to your holiday plans!
- Make them stretchy and sticky. Simply add 2 to 3 cups of mini marshmallows to the sugar mixture! It gives them that ooey-gooey, Rice Krispie treat texture we all know and love.
How to Store
Fresh is best, but here’s how to make your popcorn balls last a little longer.
To Store: Wrap them in plastic wrap and leave them at room temperature. They should remain fresh for up to 5 days.
They’re the perfect make-ahead snack and also make nice gifts.
To Freeze: Wrap them in plastic wrap. Then, store them in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
Let them thaw in their wrappers at room temperature before eating them.
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