Popcorn balls are not only delicious but making them is a fun family tradition! Popcorn is such a cheap ingredient for a dessert. But these popcorn balls are always a hit when we make them during the holidays. Make these up with your family when you have plenty of excited helpers and give them away as gifts! Do you want to start a new tradition this year? If so, I’ll share the super-simple recipe my family uses.
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Some of my earliest and happiest memories include going over to my grandparents’ house during the holidays with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I come from a very big, lovely family and we always celebrated holidays together. There was never a shortage of cousins to play with, either!
I remember we were most excited when it was time to make the popcorn balls! We would wash our hands and then we would slather butter all over them so the sticky syrup wouldn’t stick to us. We would grab handfuls of popcorn out of the bowl, the syrup was still warm and even hot, and we would quickly make the popcorn balls and put them on wax paper to cool down. Those are memories I will always cherish and I’ve continued the tradition with my own children.
How to Make Popcorn Balls
You’ll need a lot of popcorn for this project. The sticky syrup is made from sugar, water, molasses, vinegar, vanilla extract, and salt.
In a large pot, heat a layer of oil in the bottom of your pot over medium heat and add enough popcorn kernels to cover the bottom of the pot. I prefer using organic coconut oil, but you can use any oil that you have on hand. Then put a lid on your pot.
To prevent the popcorn from burning in the bottom of the pot, give your pot a shake (using hot pads) about every 5 seconds or so after the popcorn starts popping. When the popping slows down or stops, take the popcorn off the heat. Pour the popcorn into a large bowl and set it aside. It’s optional, but you can sprinkle a little bit of salt on your popcorn.
Make Hardening Syrup
In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of sugar, 1 ½ cups of water, and ½ cup of molasses. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Heat the syrup until it’s 260° F (127° C) which is the hard ball stage and then take it off the heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. I like to use homemade apple scrap vinegar but distilled white vinegar also works.
Stir the syrup until everything is combined and then pour the hot syrup over the popcorn. Stir the popcorn and syrup with a rubber spatula until the popcorn is coated. Be warned: it’ll be STICKY!
Make Popcorn Balls
Coat clean hands with butter. Then, grab handfuls of popcorn and shape it into various popcorn ball sizes. Be mindful of the hot syrup and reapply the butter as needed to prevent sticking. The syrup at the bottom of the bowl is the hottest.
Cool the popcorn balls on wax paper until they harden. Then store your popcorn balls in plastic wrap or another container to keep them fresh.
The leftover popcorn and syrup in the bowl will harden. Don’t worry. Once you put your bowls in your sink and fill them with water, the syrup will soften and you can wash your popcorn bowls.
You can (and should!) eat some popcorn balls right away. They also make great gifts to give away!
Recipe for Popcorn Balls
- large stainless steel pot with lid
- large bowl
- medium saucepan
- measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- rubber spatula
- high heat thermometer
- wax paper
- plastic wrap
- popcorn kernels
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups water
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 tsp vinegar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp salt
- Make popcorn on the stove over medium heat by heating a layer of oil in the bottom of your large pot and adding popcorn kernels. Add the lid. Once popcorn kernels start popping, shake your pot every 5 seconds or so to prevent the popcorn from burning. Turn the heat off when the pops slow down or stop. Pour the popcorn into a large bowl and set it aside.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, water, and molasses to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Heat the syrup until it's 260° F (127° C). Then add the vinegar, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir in just enough to mix it well.
- Pour the syrup over the popcorn and stir until the popcorn is coated. Coat hands with butter and shape the popcorn with syrup into balls of any size. BE CAREFUL OF HOT SYRUP! Cool on wax paper and wrap with plastic wrap.
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unsulfured blackstrap molasses
These look delicious and fun to make! I printed the recipe so my girls could give it a try, I think even our little toddler could help out!
That makes me so happy! I hope you all enjoy them and the memories you’ll make together!!
I’ve never tried making popcorn balls. This may be a fun tradition to start with our family! Thanks!
I hope you all enjoy them as much as we do! They taste great but I think half the fun is in making them!!
These look yummy and your instructions are so clear to follow. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks! If you try them, I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!