Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Caramel Popcorn Balls

I've made these caramel popcorn balls for years as a holiday treat. This year, I had my friend, Ana, help me out since I wanted to double the recipe and give them to friends. We made dozens of balls and I had a huge overflowing bowl left. Now you can see that there are other people who like my popcorn balls since the bowl is looking decidedly empty. Anyway, here is the recipe if you want to give it a try.

I use white popcorn as it seems to have fewer hulls. The popcorn must be popped before you start the aramel mixture. We pop it in a hot-air popper, enough to fill 3 large bowls.

1/2 cup margarine
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup light Karow (corn) syrup
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 qts popped corn

In saucepan on medium, combine margarine sugar and corn syrup. Stir well and bring to slight boil. Stir in the Eagle brand milk and continue stirring. When this mixture starts to boil, check it for soft ball stage. (see below). It gets to softball stage quickly. Remove from heat and carefully add in vanilla.

Mixture remains hot for a white and is best used while the caramel is still liquid and hot. Be careful not to touch the caramel with your fingers at this point. Use a long handled spoon to stir the bowls of popcorn as you pour the hot caramel mixture over the popcorn. This is best done in 2 steps using half the caramel mixture each time. Stir up the caramel in one bowl, white popcorn will still be visible, and then do this with the other 2 bowls. Go back to bowl #1 and add more caramel until most of the white popcorn is coated with the gooey caramel. Repeat for bowls 2 and 3. If you have any left over caramel, look for white spots and add caramel.

Spread out two 2-ft pieces of waxed paper on a flat surface. After washing your hands, coat them with margarine. Working quickly, shape caramel popcorn into balls the size of tennis balls (or smaller) and set on the waxed paper. It is not necessary to squeeze the balls tightly, just enough strength to make them stick together. If you did not cook the caramel mixture long enough, the balls will start to separate in 5 or 10 minutes. If that happens, the popcorn is still good to eat in small chunks. The balls can be eaten immediately and will continue to firm up as the hours pass. My popcorn balls are usually gone within 2 days so I'm not certain just how hard they get.

So what is softball stage? Before we had whiz-bang candy thermometers to gauge softball, hardball, soft crack etc stages of candy-making, we used a cup of cold water to tell us what stage our candy making was in. I put a custard cup of cold tap water next to the stove after I add the milk to the caramel mixture. As it starts to boils and I stir, I bring the spoon up out of the hot mixture with just a bit of the caramel hanging on the spoon and carefully let one drop fall into the cold water. Then, using one finger, I try to roll the caramel in the water. If the caramel dissolves and the water gets murky, continue cooking for another minute or two, stirring constantly. Wash the cup and put fresh cold water into the cup and repeat the test. When you are able to roll your finger over the caramel in the water and it has a soft but firm consistency, it has reached soft ball. Remove the pot from the heat immediately. If you cook it too long and do this test, you may end up with a hard ball and caramel balls that are a bit chewy. Still delicious of course, they just may rearrange your dental work.

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My life has changed in the last couple of years - some bumps, I retired from quilting, and then I moved to Texas. I'm anxious to see what new adventures await me in the next phase of my life.

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Ramona, California, United States
I started quilting when a quilt shop opened in our little town in January 2004. I have been hooked ever since.

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This is called Fruit Cocktail

This is called Fruit Cocktail
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