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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween: The Curse of the Popcorn Ball

Two seperate Halloween's, I have attempted to make popcorn balls. It just sounds like a fun sweet/salty snack that is crunchy (you must always have a crunch factor!) and festive. If you have ever made these holiday concoctions successfully, please let me know your dirtiest secrets.

Because apparently, this idiot never learns.

First try was a couple years ago, before a Halloween party. Having read absolutely nothing about making them, I figured it was easy. Just slap some caramel, peanuts, popcorn together and Voila! we have lovely popcorn balls, right? WRONG. I ended up having scalding caramel all over my hands, leaving me with blistered palms. There was no ball-like structure, only globs of mess. Awesome.

You would have thought I would have known better this year.

So this year, I [ahem we] did some research on the lovely internet and learned that in fact cooked caramel is NOT the gluing agent. It is in fact making your own candy out of corn syrup. Ok, looked easy enough. My only problem being that I don't own a candy thermometer, but this "soft ball/hard ball" test thing seemed easy enough.

Rule #1: Always purchase a candy thermometer.
The corn syrup mixture goes from liquid to practically peanut brittle mix in the blink of an eye. This is why when I now bite into the resulting popcorn balls, it like biting into a popcorn covered in Jolly Rancher candy; it gets all stuck in your teeth.

Rule #2: Do NOT under any circumstances pour the candy mixture on foil or wax paper.
Use a nice stick-free bowl that has been greased with some butter. The syrup hardens to diamond-like strength quickly. And popcorn balls with aluminum foil flecks in them just dont taste as good.

Rule #3: DON'T USE YOUR HANDS to form the balls.
You would have think I would have learned this what with the blister nightmares from years past. First of all, grease your hands with butter for the last part of compacting the ball; and secondly, use a spatula or two to for the preliminary clumps when the syrup is still fresh off the stove.

Rule #4: Butter is NOT the same as Butter FLAVORING.
There is a lot of chemistry involved in making candy. I never faired well in chemistry. Just for your own redundant knowledge, butter flavoring is an extract, very different from the stuff you put on your toast.

I'm a stubborn chick (the hell you say!), and chances are, I'll try it again some time. Because I hate that something as simple as a popcorn ball is getting the best of my sanity.


Sarah's Parties said...

I have faith in you! Wanna try it together over Turkey day weekend????

Anonymous said...

Just for ther record, against Andrew's suggestion, I brought the popcorn balls to work anyways, and while people told me they were good, a coworker broke her retainer eating one.

I will muster up the will to try again in a few weeks!