Baked Sunday Mornings: Candy Caramel Popcorn Balls

I make caramel corn and popcorn balls fairly regularly. I've served some sort of candied popcorn at our annual holiday party every year since 2011, and in 2015 I included the Candy Caramel Popcorn Balls from Baked Occasions on the party menu. I thought the popcorn balls were terrific but didn't bother blogging about them at the time because I knew they would eventually come up on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule.

I normally use ordinary supermarket popcorn, but this time I happened to have some mushroom popcorn kernels on hand that were a recent impulse buy from In contrast to butterfly popcorn that pops into irregular shapes, mushroom popcorn pops into ball shapes and is particularly well-suited for making caramel popcorn. The recipe was fairly straightforward. I popped 125 g of mushroom popcorn in an air popper and dried it out in the oven briefly. To make the caramel I heated dark brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, and butter to 238 degrees; and then added salt, vanilla, and baking soda. I poured the caramel over the popcorn; added 150 g of honey-roasted peanuts; stirred to coat the popcorn and distribute the peanuts; and formed the mixture into balls.

I have a bit of a routine when it comes to making caramel corn. First, I combine the popcorn and caramel in a large nonstick turkey roasting pan. The high sides and nonstick surface make it so much easier to stir and coat the popcorn without making a huge mess. Second, I wear vinyl gloves that I coat with some canola spray when I form the popcorn balls. These were some of the best-looking popcorn balls I've ever made; I really liked the uniform appearance of the puffy mushroom popcorn.
While the popcorn balls looked great, something was not quite right with them. I think that caramel corn should have one of two textures. Either the caramel should form a crispy candy shell, or it should have a stretchy, chewy texture. But my caramel was neither -- it grainy and soft. I thought that I might have caused the caramel to crystallize by stirring it too much during cooking. I had used a chunk of butter straight from the refrigerator and it hadn't completely melted by the time the mixture started to boil, so I did stir a bit while it boiled.

To make sure this wasn't the problem, I made another batch of popcorn balls. The second time I cut the butter into very small pieces and assiduously avoided stirring the caramel mixture after the sugar dissolved. I ended up with the same result -- grainy caramel. I'm not sure what went wrong, since I have successfully made these popcorn balls before. But in light of my difficulties, I think that in the future I would either stick to the recipe for Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Chocolate from Baked Explorations, or the recipe for Caramel Popcorn Balls from the Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, which has never failed me.

Recipe: "Caramel Candy Popcorn Balls" from Baked Occasions by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings.

Previous Posts: