I swear… the holidays bring out the best in me.
By the best, I’m specifically referring to each of the kitschy, crafty and resourceful Girl Scout badges I earned between the ages of 8 years and 16 years of age. Those were some of my best years. Let’s not call it peaking early because all you have to do is ring a holiday bell and all of those cross stitching, stained-glass-cookie-making, and popcorn crafting come bubbling right back to the surface like I haven’t ignored them for the last 50 weeks.
Introducing: Eggnog-ish Popcorn Balls. The edible craft you make with your hands and choose between wrapping as a gift or throwing at your sister. A Choose Your Own Adventure gift or weapon…. at least that’s how it was advertised to me in the Girl Scout Handbook (this is an exaggeration at best, but still very funny to me… so I’m letting it ride).
Popcorn balls are essentially an edible decoration. Like caramel corn you added nutmeg to and bunched together on purpose. I mean… what more could you ask for (rhetorical)? Shall we?
Here’s how these start:
Popcorn is popped (microwave or otherwise).
Gather sugar and corn syrup, water, and vanilla extract, vinegar, butter, salt, and fresh nutmeg!
First we’ll make a sugar syrup, pliable and sticky enough to hold together our popcorn.
Sugar and corn syrup in a small pot.
We’ll add water, sea salt, and vinegar (which will keep sugar crystals from forming) before bringing the mixture to a simmer to precisely 260 degrees F.
This is again one of those times when I pester you to buy a candy thermometer.
Once the mixture simmers to 260 degrees, it’s removed from the heat and softened butter is added.
The mixture bubbles up as the butter melts. Perfect time to add pure vanilla extract.
And stir like a whizzz.
This is super satisfying.
Fresh nutmeg is added.
You know. Holiday flare. Home comfort. General good vibes. Plus, in December you’re allowed to make everything taste like eggnog… mostly all it takes is nutmeg.
Stir to combine and now is the fun part.
Place popcorn in a giant bowl, and gently pour sugar syrup over the popcorn.
Don’t dig your hands in just yet. The sugar syrup is likely too hot and could stick to your hands and burn you.
See? This is the part that made this sort of baking worth a Girl Scout badge: a hint of danger.
Add the almonds while the mixture is still warm and sticky and stir it up!
Toss to thoroughly coat and, once cool enough, about 4 minutes or so (but test for yourself)… grease your hands with something like butter or nonstick cooking spray, and press into balls.
Give the balls a few minutes to cool and harden to hold their shape.
Wrap the balls individually and huzzah! You’ve got some sweet little gifts. Chewy and crunchy. Sweet and salty. Weapon or gift.
Photos with Jon Melendez.
- 9 cups plain popped popcorn
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 teaspoon distilled white or apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for coating the bowl and your hands
- 3/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup dry roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
- Coat a large heatproof bowl with butter or nonstick cooking spray and place the popcorn in the bowl. Set aside.
- Place the sugar, corn syrup, water, vinegar, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Place over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture registers 260°F on a candy/fat thermometer, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, nutmeg, and vanilla until melted and smooth.
- Immediately drizzle the sugar mixture over the popcorn. Add the almonds and stir continuously with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the bowl, until the popcorn is thoroughly coated and cool enough to handle, about 3 minutes.
- Using buttered or oiled hands, tightly press the mixture (it may still be a bit warm) into 3-inch rounds. Place on waxed or parchment paper to cool completely, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Wrap individually and store at room temperature until ready to eat or gift.