There are some things I never make at home because they seem like too much work (Cronuts) and other things I never make because I would want to eat all of it in one sitting. Homemade caramel popcorn balls fall into the latter category. Once again, the Baked Sunday Mornings group is stretching my dessert repertoire.
A friend once brought me two gallons of Garrett’s Caramel Crisp as a thank you for pet-sitting. That stuff was the best caramel popcorn I’d ever had. Every kernel was perfectly popped and evenly coated in soft caramel sauce. I didn’t quite reach that pinnacle with my version of BAKED’s caramel candy popcorn balls, but I blame myself.
You’re supposed to start with about 18 cups of popped lightly-salted popcorn, from 2-3 bags of popcorn. I had an entire bag of popcorn kernels in the pantry, so I decided to pop my own. I measured out 1/2 cup of kernels, which according to the back of the bag makes 16 cups of popped corn. Half the kernels didn’t pop and another sizable minority only popped a little, so I kept what I could and repeated the experiment, with much the same result. However, I couldn’t really think of a simple way to measure the total quantity of popped corn I had, so I assumed it was about right. I filled my 3/4-sheet pan with a single layer of the popcorn, toasted it until dry, and sprinkled it with a little salt then left it to cool while I made my caramel sauce.
The caramel sauce comes together really quickly. I thought the recommendation to stir the caramel with the end of wooden spoon was genius, since it provides less surface area for your sugar to stick to so you lose less. After the caramel mixture reaches 238 F (softball stage), you quickly add a little vanilla extract and baking soda. Why baking soda? I’ve never added baking soda to any caramel sauce I’ve ever made before. The reaction of the baking soda with other ingredients in the caramel results in massive bubbling. As the caramel sauce bubbles and cools, air is trapped in the caramel and yields a softer caramel candy. Normally this is the point at which I add cream to my caramel sauce, as opposed to at the beginning with the sugar as we do here. The later addition of cream also causes violent bubbling of the caramel syrup, so perhaps they’re both accomplishing similar things in the end.I added Heath bar chunks and semi-sweet chocolate chunks to my popcorn, but next time I might make these as simple caramel popcorn. I liked having the chocolate in there, but I prefer my caramel corn to be unadulterated. Plus maybe all the chocolate contributed to my shaping struggles.
As you can tell from the photos, I didn’t succeed in forming these into balls. I probably had way too much popcorn and too little caramel. I’d make this again, with half the quantity of popcorn. Beyond my failure to measure though, I’m not sure how you form these caramel candy popcorn balls while the caramel is still scalding hot. I tried doing it with the wooden spoon and a half cup measure, but I didn’t quite manage it. Once my caramel and the candy pieces I used had cooled enough for me to handle, it seemed too late to shape them. I’m just going to have to try making them again.Freshly made, I could not stop eating this caramel candy corn from Baked Occasions. The caramel was perfectly soft, and the little clusters of warm perfectly-coated candied caramel corn were really addictive, regardless of their shape. I brought it into work the next day and everyone exclaimed over how good it was, although I thought the caramel corn had gone a little soft and dangerously close to soggy. Several people asked to take some home to their kids. I wasn’t able to present anyone (secretary or not) with perfectly coated caramel candy popcorn balls, but I’d make this stuff fresh for a party or movie night in a heartbeat.
Get the recipe at Baked Sunday Mornings and see what the other bakers thought!