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Quick and Easy Homemade Popcorn Balls

Popcorn balls are a classic treat. They have whole-grain popcorn with a creamy, sweet candy coating. So good! This particular recipe came from an 80-year-old friend who gave me the recipe when I was 19. Little did I know that I would eventually have 7 children who would benefit from this shared recipe.

When my kids were still in public school, I would make big batches of these and individually wrap them for their lunches. Often they would bring extras to "share". It wasn't until recently that I learned from my teen daughter, that they were using their extra treats as a kind of currency to barter for other kid's lunch items.

a woman's hands holding popcorn

To begin with, I start with 1 cup worth of popcorn kernels. These pop up to 20-24 cups worth of popped popcorn. I have heard of people using as little as 8 cups of popcorn but I feel like the ratio of candy to corn is too high at that point.

a woman's hands adding sugar for candy coating

To make the candy coating, I add 2 cups of sugar to a medium pot.

a woman's hands adding cream for candy coating

I add 1 cup of cream to the sugar. This addition is what I think places this recipe above so many others. The creaminess of the candy helps to offset the sweet so that it is not too overwhelming.

a woman's hands adding corn syrup to candy coating
corn syrup

Adding the 1/2 cup of light corn syrup helps to thicken it more quickly. (The only problem I have is getting it out of my measuring cup.)

a woman's hands adding food color for candy coating
food color

Adding food color is an optional step but can make it fun to coordinate with a current holiday. I often let my kids choose what color we will go with that day.

Cook this mixture on medium-high heat stirring regularly until it is 238 degrees Fahrenheit. This should be at the soft ball stage. If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can place a small amount of the candy in a bowl of cold water. If you can roll it into a soft ball and it holds its shape, then it is at the right point. I like using the thermometer because it takes the guessing out of it.

a woman's hands adding vanilla to candy coating

After the candy has reached the right temperature I remove it from the heat and add the vanilla. If you add the vanilla while it is cooking it will burn off the vanilla flavor. I am using brown vanilla which will alter the color a little. If you want a vibrant color you will need to use clear vanilla instead.

a woman's hands mixing popcorn and candy coating together
mix in layers

I like to add the candy and popcorn together in layers as I mix them.

a woman's hands mixing popcorn and candy coating together
mix well

If you try to mix it all at once it is hard to mix the candy coating over the popcorn evenly.

a woman making popcorn balls with a bowl of water on the counter
make into balls

After it is mixed, it is time to start using your hands. You'll need a bowl of cold water nearby for dipping your hands in regularly. This is what keeps the candy coating from sticking to your hands. (Remember to shake off any excess water so you don't have soggy popcorn.) I press the popcorn together in small handfuls. I want it together enough not to fall apart but not so tightly pushed together that it becomes compacted. (This may or may not have happened the last time my husband helped me.)

blue popcorn balls on a gold platter
Finished popcorn balls

I then leave them on parchment paper until they have a chance to harden. It usually takes about 30 minutes. I use plastic wrap to individually wrap them and place them in a gallon-size zip lock bag in the cupboard. They stay fresh tasting for 7-10 days.

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