In my family Nana's molasses popcorn balls are a coveted item. If you don't intend on sending them to family you had better not tell them you made popcorn balls. If you like molasses be warned - you may become addicted. You'll find yourself walking to the freezer without realizing what you're doing and grabbing popcorn balls that you were supposed to save for Christmas.
On the other hand, if you are not a fan of molasses I would strongly recommend against making these unless they are to give to someone who does like it.
Also, I would not recommend this recipe for people who are afraid to get their hands dirty (literally). When you're forming the popcorn balls with you're hands you'll need to coat them with butter so that the popcorn doesn't stick.
When you're reading this recipe you might think that the hardest thing is boiling the molasses - WRONG! The hardest part of this recipe is finding a bowl big enough to hold all of the popcorn. For this reason I would recommend halving this recipe (at least) until you are sure your largest bowl is big enough. In this instructable you'll see I didn't have a big enough bowl and had to split the popcorn into two bowls. This is not ideal because the recipe has the PERFECT amount of molasses syrup to coat the popcorn pretty evenly. If you use two bowls you increase the surface area that the molasses syrup will stick to (instead of sticking to the popcorn).
Step 1: Ingredients
Remember, this is for a pretty large batch. I would recommend halving this recipe.
*12 1/2 qts of popped popcorn (for this I used ~1 cup of popcorn kernels
3 c. light molasses
2 c. white karo syrup (I think this is just corn syrup)
1 1/2 c. white table sugar
4 tbsp. butter + 1/4 c. butter at room temperature
LARGE bowl (heat proof)
medium bowl (heat proof)
* 1 quart = 4 cups
Step 2: Making the Popcorn
This is not hard but it may be a little strange for some people who have never cooked popcorn without a microwave. Follow the instructions and everything will be fine!
1. Place 3-4 corn kernels in your large pot and pour enough oil in the pot to come up about half way to three quarters of the way up the kernels. Turn on the stove to medium heat and wait for your 3 kernels to pop. They will tell you when the oil is hot enough. PLACE THE LID ON YOUR POT. You do NOT want hot kernels or oil jumping out of the pot and hurting you, your loved ones, or fuzzy friends.
2. Once your 3-4 kernels have popped place enough popcorn kernels in the pot to cover the bottom of the pot and not stack on top of each other. Put the lid back on the pot.
3. The popping will start out slowly and quicken. Once your popcorn has slowed its popping (but has not stopped) remove it from the heat and pour into a medium sized heat-proof bowl.
4. Use a heat proof utensil to scrape anything left in the pot that you don't want burning when you do the next batch of popcorn.
5. Place 3-4 more kernals in the pot and put more oil in as you did before.
6. While oil is heating up shake your bowl with the popcorn in it a little bit so the kernels that didn't pop move down to the bottom.
7. CAREFULLY scoop handfuls of popcorn out of the bowl its in and into your very large heat-proof bowl. Try to avoid unpopped kernals because they can be VERY hot for a little while after you pour them into the bowl. Do not try to reuse these unpopped kernals.
8. Once the oil is heated add more popcorn kernals to it as you did before in and repeat steps #2 - #8. You will most likely make 3-4 batches of popcorn if you are using the proportions in this recipe.
Step 3: Getting Your Work Space Ready
This may seem like a strange step but when you mix the molasses syrup with the popcorn and then form the balls you're going to take up a bit of space.
Wherever you're going to do this make sure that you put wax paper down on your work space (see picture)
Take your 1/4 cup of butter at room temperature and put it on a plate. This will be the only thing that keeps your hands from sticky madness.
Step 4: Making the Molasses Syrup
Ok! The popcorn is made and your work area is ready!
9. Pour the molasses, karo syrup, and sugar into your pot. Stir it up until mostly homogeneous. Put the lids back on your molasses jars and karo syrup container and flip it upside down so that the syrup pools to the top of the container. This way you get everything you paid for! Pour the rest of the syrups into the pot.
10. Set your candy thermometer in pot. Turn on the heat medium or medium high.
DO NOT STIR YOUR SYRUP AT ALL ONCE IT HAS STARTED HEATING! RESIST THE URGE!
11. Once your syrup starts boiling throw in 1 tbsp of butter and DO NOT STIR.
12. When the syrup reaches your desired temperature (discussed below) remove it from heat and add the other 3 tbsp of butter and let it melt on top of the syrup. Once it is completely melted it probably wont hurt anything to gently stir it in so it's mixed well.
PLEASE don't let this section intimidate you.
Nana has the syrup go to 238 degrees in Tucson, AZ (Elevation: ~2,389') according to google)
I looked on a website and it said that you should reduce the cooking temperature by 1 degree every 500' increase in elevation. I currently live in Colorado at an elevation of 8437'. The difference in elevation is ~6000' so by this rule I should bring the syrup down 12 degrees to 226 degrees, which is what I did. I might take it down 1-2 degrees next time but it still came out very well. If you would like to figure out what temperature you should cook it to I would use this 1 degree per 500' rule. Don't forget that if you live at a LOWER elevation than Tucson you will add 1 degree per 500'. To find your elevation you can check google. I hope this makes sense.
Step 5: Mixing Molasses Syrup With Popcorn
This is a very messy part. There will be lots of popcorn that spilled over your bowl. That's okay - I always like to eat the jumpers while someone mixes the popcorn (if I am lucky enough to have someone else mix it for me).
Again, splitting your popcorn into two bowls is not ideal because of this part. If you put too much syrup in one bowl the other is not going to have a very nice coating of molasses.
13. Pour about 1/2 of your molasses batch over the popcorn.
14. Mix the popcorn gently by scooping spoons/spatulas down the sides of the bowl to the bottom. Gently bring the spoons up through the popcorn so that the molasses that drips to the bottom is brought up to the top of the popcorn. Repeat this step many times until most of the molasses is coating the popcorn and not pooling at the bottom. The motions are the same as if you were tossing a garden salad. This may take a little while. Be patient. Then pour more molasses over and mix again. Repeat until all of the molasses has been mixed into the popcorn.
Step 6: Forming the Popcorn Balls
This step is my favorite part.
15. Once the molasses syrup is mixed thoroughly into the popcorn WASH YOUR HANDS.
16. Once your hands are clean and sanitized scoop up some of the room temperature butter (remember, you placed 1/4 cup on a small plate in your work area). Smear it all over the inside of your hands and between your fingers if need be. This will keep the popcorn from sticking to you.
17. Grab some popcorn (make sure its not too hot to touch) and form it into balls. It may fall apart if its too warm or the cooking temperature was too low. That's ok. Wait for it to cool a little longer and then reform them. Don't be too rough - you don't want to squish the popcorn!
18. At this point you can eat or store the popcorn balls. For information on storage see the next step. ENJOY!
NOM NOM NOM!
Step 7: Cleanup, Storage, and Later Eating
The bits of popcorn left in the bowl are good to eat and help you postpone tapping into your popcorn ball stash (even if it's for an hour). If you let your bowls and utensils soak in hot water for a little while you will have no trouble removing the molasses syrup.
We always freeze about 2/3 of the popcorn balls in ziploc bags. When you want to eat one you can just take it out and microwave it for ~30 seconds.
The ones that you don't freeze can just be kept in a ziploc on the counter or stacked on a cake holder with a lid.
One last thing - if you have sensitive teeth or you just want to have your popcorn ball softer just throw it in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. They're not hard but you may just want yours a little softer.
I hope you enjoy these. Have a wonderful day!