Childhood Favorite Popcorn Balls

When my daddy was a little boy, there was a sweet elderly woman that lived on his street. Every Halloween, she would spend all day in her kitchen preparing sticky, chewy, and oh-so-craveable popcorn balls for all the neighboring children. Dad remembers those Halloweens fondly and said there was nothing as sweet as her popcorn balls.

5 years ago, right around this time of year, Dad was sharing that memory with me. And I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it was that she would make homemade candy and treats for the neighboring kids and I felt sort of ashamed for handing out Reeses and Kit Kats.

Well, right then and there we both jumped up, hopped on Lord Google, and searched for Popcorn Balls recipes and found one to our liking. We raided the pantry, started pulling out ingredients, and got to cooking!

And I regret to inform you that not a one of them made it into the hands of any neighboring children. We ate every single one of those bad boys and you will too!

These popcorn balls have become a fall tradition in our household. Mom or Dad would pack them up and bring them to football games, send a half dozen to me at my apartment, or we would simply eat them ourselves in place of a well-balanced meal. Just being honest with you. When these are still warm from the stovetop, there is nothing like them in the world! I have to consciously tell myself to put them away. It’s something I’m still working on.

So, this past weekend, we continued that tradition of popcorn ball making. Can’t wait for you to make them too and share them with your families! So fun!

Popcorn Balls Recipe


  • 12 cups popped popcorn
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, unsalted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. Start with 12 cups of glorious, freshly popped popcorn.

Popcorn 2

This amount is produced from approximately 1/2 cup of corn kernels.

Personally, I love the flavor profile of stovetop popped popcorn. So light, fluffy, and at the same time dense and chewy. And I like white corn as opposed to yellow, but now I am just being picky.

Popcorn 1

We use an old-fashioned Whirley Pop pan for our popcorn, but you can use whatever works for you! {follow link here to Williams Sonoma for more info on the Whirely Pop if interested}

Popcorn 3

2. Pick over the popped popcorn ensuring there are no unpopped kernels or too-brown pieces in your popcorn. Once you have completed that, set the 12 cups aside and place into a large greased bowl.

3. Now it’s time to get down the syrup! Place sugar, corn syrup, and vinegar in a medium sauce pan over medium hight heat with a candy thermometer attached. Put that candy thermometer in from the very beginning to it can heat up with the sugar syrup. Otherwise, your bulb will break.

Syrup 1

Trust me, I speak from a place of experience on this subject.

Stir until the sugar dissolves and it no longer looks crystalized. It will be nice glossy and thick.

Syrup 2

Stop stirring and allow to continue to cook until thermometer reads 260 degrees or Hard Ball stage.

I love this part.

Bubble bubble toil and trouble…

Syrup bubbles 1

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.’

Syrup bubbles 2

As you see, the bubbles take on a slightly different hue the more it cooks. You want this pale blonde color, but not as dark as amber. Don’t want that sugar to burn on you!

Syrup bubbles 3

4. Perfect! We are at 260, so remove from heat and immediately stir in the 4 tablespoons of butter and vanilla that have been waiting in the wings.

Butter & vanilla

add butter

This will cause the mixture to bubble up voilently, so stand clear, and then stir until all is dissolved and you have a nice opaque, pourable, thick syrup.

and stir it inNow, back to that popcorn.

5. Pour thickened mixture evenly over the popcorn in the large, greased bowl.

I love watching it ribbon and cascade over the popped corn!

pouring 2

Then toss with a rubber spatula until all combined and all the corn is coated.

stirring 1

stirring 2

6. Now, it’s time to form the balls! We prefer a more medium sized popcorn ball, but you make whatever size you like. Little small ones would be adorable too!

balls 1

On any given recipe, we make anywhere from 14-18 balls. Sometime more and sometimes less. It is a very organic process.

balls 2

A sweet, sweet family tradition. Popcorn balls! Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!




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