Help the kids form mountains of popcorn balls for fun during the holidays, birthday parties, sleepovers, or just for a weekend-afternoon treat. These are great to make when they are on vacation and looking for something to do!
You will need to pop two bags of microwave popcorn or two packages of stovetop popcorn. If time is tight, buy a medium-sized bag of plain, storebought popcorn -- avoid any flavorings or artificial butter flavor.
Put the popcorn in a lightly oiled, stainless steel bowl and hold it a 200°F oven. This will keep it warm without cooking it any further and the oil prevents it from sticking.
Kids will need the help of an adult to melt the caramel. We used a bag of caramel squares and melt them in the microwave. This is hot work, so take care.
Put the unwrapped caramels in a glass or other microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Watch the caramel carefully to make sure it does not burn and remove it from the microwave when it looks soft. Use a lightly oiled fork or spoon to stir the caramel into a smooth mass.
If you prefer, melt the caramel in the top of a double boiler over gently boiling water. This will take 20 to 30 minutes. Stir it with an oiled spatula, spoon, or fork until smooth.
Making Popcorn Balls
Using oven mitts to hold the container, pour the hot caramel over the warm popcorn. Using an oiled fork, stir the popcorn to mix it with the caramel. As you work, start to form three-inch-round balls. This is best done by an adult.
Allow the caramel to cool slightly for a minute or two before forming the finished balls. Kids can dig in here and use their hands to carefully form the balls. Be extra careful, as the caramel can still be hot enough to feel uncomfortable or even slightly burn little hands.
Allow the popcorn balls to rest on a wax-paper-lined baking sheet until completely cool. Store them at room temperature in a plastic bag, airtight plastic container, or wrapped individually in plastic wrap for gift giving.
Super Popcorn Balls
While the original popcorn ball is delicious and delightful, try mixing them up a little with some other fun ingredients.
Make chocolate chip or peanut butter chip popcorn balls by tossing in chips after you pour the caramel over the popcorn. Make rocky road popcorn balls with mini-marshmallows, chocolate chips, and peanuts.
You can make these colorful by adding M&M's to your popcorn or colored sprinkles to the bowl with the caramel. Another way to get color into the popcorn balls is to add dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, or diced apricots.
Get nutty! Any kind of nut you desire will work well in popcorn balls, too.
Make a chocolate-covered popcorn ball on a stick. Use the Popsicle sticks that often come with bags of caramels. Form the popcorn ball around the end of the stick and when it has cooled completely, dip it into melted chocolate. Let it set and dry on a wax-paper-lined baking sheet. You could even roll the chocolate covered ball in chopped nuts.
Make sure to brush your teeth well after eating any of these popcorn balls!