Monday, November 17, 2014

Gooey popcorn balls without corn syrup!

My mother lives hundreds of miles away and we haven't seen each other in many years so staying connected is sometimes more involved than a telephone call.  We both have subscriptions to Netflix and so one of the ways we remain confederate is by ordering the same movie or TV series and watch "together".  Currently my husband and I are watching Dr. Who season 3 "with" my mother.  The other day she suggested that I make some popcorn balls and I thought that would go great with our TV-time!  I haven't made them in well over a decade, so it'd be good to enjoy them again.  I really, really don't like the pre-made ones available near Halloween at the store, so I just haven't had them at all.  Fall is the classic time for these treats, but I think they're great for snacks during baseball season as well.

I love the flexibility of seasonings for these, too. They are little blank canvases and you can even enjoy flavoring each one individually if you like to also!

 I tried to follow a recipe since I was just starting to stretch my popcorn-ball-making muscles, but almost every popcorn ball recipe calls for corn syrup. Well, I'm not a big fan of it in general.  It serves a purpose, but I almost never use it and don't keep it on hand.  Running out to the store for one ingredient is a waste of an hour since I live in the boonies, so I made due with what I had...and I threw recipes out the door.

Making popcorn balls without a recipe or corn syrup.  Perfect for tv time!
Make popcorn
I popped a pile of popcorn in my cast-iron dutch oven.  Like, maybe 8 cups.
A bit of oil in the bottom, set the temp. to medium, shook it around to coat the kernels with  oil, and put the lid on with a small gap. After most had popped, Hubby dumped it out onto a piece of parchment and then put only the popped popcorn back into the dutch oven and discarded the kernels left. 

Make sticky-candy goodness!
Not being too sure what would make a chewy, gooey, but not overly sticky (messy) candy, I just winged it.  Y'know, because I make candy all the time! (I don't!) and because it's so easy! (it takes practice!).
The only ingredient amounts I actually measured was what I started with: 1/2 C wildflower honey, 4 giant Campfire brand marshmallows, and 1/4 C water.  All of that went into the pot on medium.  Once the marshmallows melted, I added about 1 T of butter and turned the heat to low.
It did that foamy, swirly, bubbly, thing that liquid candy does so I thought I was golden!
Not so much.

I dipped a piece of popcorn in, blew on it until it cooled, and tasted.  It was a sickly sweet honey flavor.  Ew. I mean, I like honey but this was like
"I'm a queen bee and I love honeeeyyy!!"
So I added a bunch of salt, like probably 2 Tablespoons of sea salt (but I wasn't measuring). 
Then Chinese five-spice, vanilla bean paste, a few Lancaster caramels (I figured, "Hey, what can it hurt? They already taste like ooey gooey caramel!")
I added a pinch of cinnamon, more salt, a big spoonful of dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, and a bit more butter.  Many tastings.  It was getting better.  Now it was more like
"I'm a bee-keeper and I love honey!"
I dropped a bit into cold water and it was at ball-state so I poured it over the popped corn, stirred, and let it cool a bit while Hubby was setting up our TV watching area by the fireplace.  We don't keep a TV in the living room, but we wanted to snuggle by the fire during our Dr. Who marathon, so he moved it <3  He's the best.

Make the balls
Then we PAM'ed our hands and formed the balls and placed them on the parchment to cool.  If the candy coating isn't cool enough it will be hard to get it to stick together instead of sticking to your hands, so make sure it's cool enough (you also don't want to get burnt by the liquid candy!! It gets super-hot.)

Pack 'em up
After the shows were over, I packed the remaining balls away by cutting the parchment I had already used and wrapped each ball like a piece of peppermint candy and twisting the ends and securing with a rubber band.  I save those fat blue bands that come on broccoli, so I just cut them in half to make two! 

Next time
These came out pretty good and the consistency of the candy was perfect (by sheer luck), but it took everything but the kitchen sink to tone down that strong honey flavor.  My takeaway from this is that I won't use that much honey for them again; it just added too much flavor. 
Some ideas to try instead:  Marshmallows (a'la krispie treats), just break down and buy corn syrup next time I'm at the store, or use granulated sugar.

Thanks to Mom for the idea, Hubby for the ambiance and companionship, and everyone who makes the awesomeness that is Doctor Who!

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