Posted by: Erica Retrochef | October 27, 2014

Popcorn Balls

You know what I’ve always wanted to make around Halloween? Popcorn balls. But until recently, I’d never had any way to make popcorn that wasn’t in a microwaveable bag. Scary-butter-flavored popcorn both didn’t taste right, and was also ridiculously expensive to make enough to turn into popcorn balls. But recently, I learned that there’s absolutely nothing special about microwave popcorn aside from the scary-butter-flavoring goo inside the bag. If you just take a plain paper bag and some plain ‘ol popcorn kernels, you’ll get popcorn!


1 cup KARO Syrup, Blue or Green Label
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 quarts unsalted popcorn

Combine first four ingredients in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly to hard ball stage (260°F.) or until a small amount of mixture forms a hard ball when tested in very cold water. Remove from heat; quickly add butter and blend. Slowly pour over popcorn in large bowl, while mixing well. Form into balls, using as little pressure as possible. Butter hands, if desired. Makes 15 about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.


And if you dump some sugary stuff on top, you’ll get popcorn balls!


It’s still possible to buy green label Karo syrup (it’s maple flavored), but the blue label tends to be used in more recipes. That’s what we’ve got, that’s what we’ll use!


The acid (vinegar) and glucose (corn syrup) here are designed to prevent the sucralose (brown sugar) from crystalizing. Because SCIENCE.


Candy thermometers are surprisingly inexpensive, and very useful. It would have been very annoying (and mildly dangerous) to try to figure out the whole hard ball stage; I far prefer the thermometer method.


One primary downside to this recipe is that you need to work fast. We shouldn’t have poured all the candy into one corner of the bowl like this; it started to harden almost immediately.


Well-oiled hands are a must. Well-oiled utensils and bowl, too, although I realized that only after the candy was sticking to absolutely everything.

(Well-buttered hands are fine, too. I chose oil for simplicity of application.)


WORK VERY, VERY FAST. I started to panic when I accidentally made a popcorn knife and popcorn spoon in addition to popcorn balls. It was sticking to everything.


After a crazy, frenzied finish, we had about seven baseball-sized popcorn balls. And wow, they tasted amazing — caramel popcorn with a great crunch! If you know what to expect with the candy coating (hint: work fast), then this is not hard at all to make, and there is room to get creative. Add nuts or chocolate chips, or use light corn syrup and add some food coloring — maybe orange, for this year’s Halloween party?

(And one final note: cleanup looked like it would be disastrous, but if you soak all candy-coated utensils in water for a few hours, they can be scrubbed without too much effort.)

Karo Syrup’s 1950 popcorn ball recipe comes from the blog Retro Casserole.


  1. Was it difficult to handle at first? I’ll be honest, I’m really rather hesitant to stick my hands in hot sugar syrup. That stuff’s culinary napalm, right up there with hot grits.

    • The coating was thin enough that with well-oiled hands and a normal rate of movement, it was not uncomfortable.

  2. Awww. Mom still makes these for me, when I ask (and I’m waaaaaaaay too old for begging Mommy to make me a treat, as I have my own house). She, weirdly, uses molasses and adds raisins in, in some vain hope of making them “healthy,” and that’s the way I’ve eaten them since I was a child. Molasses and raisins. I had no idea everyone else was using Karo syrup!!

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