Old-time popcorn balls recipe


Popcorn balls seem to be an elementary school tradition. I remember coming home from school one day and telling my mom about how we needed to make a treat to share with the class. She suggested we make popcorn balls because that’s what she and her mom used to make for her school events. To this day, I smile when I think of the bond we all share over these sticky, crunchy snacks.

  • Yield: 12 popcorn balls
  • Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
  • Cooking Time: 20 Minutes


  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup popcorn kernels (to yield about 15 cups popped popcorn)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Unsalted butter, for hands
How to Make It
  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the popcorn kernels and place the lid on the pot. Increase the heat to high and shake the pot occasionally until all the kernels have popped. Remove from the heat.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Increase the heat to high and boil the sugar mixture until a candy thermometer reads 250°F (hard ball stage). This will take 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just boil the sugar for 20 minutes and then proceed.
  3. When the sugar mixture reaches the hard ball stage, remove from the heat and stir in the molasses and vanilla. Pour this over the popcorn and toss well. Sprinkle the salt over the popcorn and toss well again. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  4. Lay out a long piece of waxed paper on your counter. With buttered hands, form the popcorn into balls and line up on the waxed paper. They might appear to fall apart at first, but cup them with your hands until a tight ball has formed.
  5. Repeat with the remaining popcorn. The popcorn balls will keep for up to a week in a sealed plastic container.

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