Popcorn and caramel and candy in one treat? Check, check, and check. Baked Sunday Mornings made Caramel Candy Popcorn Balls from Baked Occasions this week to celebrate Administrative Professionals’ Day… Man, I reeeeally wanted to like these. BAKED developed them as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the old-school notion of “secretaries” from decades past. I think they capture this (fortunately) bygone era nicely, and I was excited to make them. You guys, administrative work is so hard. I work at a high school, and for the life of me, I don’t know what we would do without our amazing administrative staff. Literally, daily operations of the school would fall apart. Everyone on the school staff has an essential role to make sure the place functions, but I’ve always felt like in addition to the tireless job of teachers, our office staff are second to none. When I was younger, I worked a few different admin jobs, and good god!, I was terrible at it. Constant phone calls, filing, opening mail, organizing other people’s crap– all at the same time, and that was even before email came into the picture! (Yes, I just hard-core dated myself. Let’s move along.) It takes a special person to be able to do 14 things at the same time in order to keep an office running every single day– that’s one reason that I love bringing baked goods into work constantly. This is the least I can do to express my gratitude.
So, popcorn balls. The recipe is very easy, and they’re quick to make. The first step is toasting the popcorn to dry it out so its crispness can stand up to the caramel– pour this into the largest bowl you own. Then you’ll make the caramel, which is a combination of dark brown and granulated sugars, corn syrup, heavy cream, and butter. You boil this mixture until it reaches the soft-ball stage, then add vanilla extract and baking soda. The baking soda aerates the mixture, turning it from semi-transparent to frothy/opaque (similar to what happens when you make peanut brittle).
You’ll immediately pour the caramel over the popcorn and fold it in with a rubber spatula. Working quickly, stir in your mix-ins (I made a ½-batch with mini M&M’s and another with chopped, toasted almonds and crushed Health bars) and form the popcorn into balls. Making the ½-batches ended up being very helpful because the caramel firms up so quickly that the last ones lose their tackiness and are difficult to stick together– I would not have been able to roll a whole batch on my own. (A friend came over to help me make more for a bake sale, and we could barely get through them before the caramel hardened too much to work with.)
The popcorn balls are festive and visually appealing, but I’m sad to say that I didn’t care for them. I found them to be weirdly chewy, not in a good way– the popcorn texture did not hold up to the caramel and got sort of… soggy? They would be fun for a kids’ birthday party, especially if you use a candy mix-in like the M&M’s, but I would otherwise not make them again.
If you wish to give them a try, you can find the recipe for Caramel Candy Popcorn Balls at Baked Sunday Mornings. Hopefully some of the other bakers liked them better than I did!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.