Kneads and Cravings: Get into the October spirit with caramel popcorn balls

Halloween isn’t going to be quite the same this year given that the COVID-19 pandemic’s safety guidelines don’t really jive with crowds of kids grabbing candy from a communal bowl while trick-or-treating and I’m pretty sure the CDC staff would lose their minds at the idea of folks bobbing for apples (in all honesty, it’s a pretty gross tradition when you think about it).

Luckily venues are opening up and folks can go out into the world again while adhering to social distance guidelines and wearing their masks (it should cover your mouth AND your nose), which allows people to still go apple picking and frolik in pumpkin patches to keep that October feeling alive.

There is just something about caramel that exudes the cozy fall feeling of wearing a thick sweater on a brisk day. In the cooler months, caramel is everywhere, nestled in chocolate, draped over apples and of course drizzled over popcorn. Combining the decadent sweetness with a salty bite of popcorn seems like a no-brainer for a sweet and simple treat.

To get into the October spirit, I made caramel popcorn balls. Chefs can sate their salty and sweet cravings with this easy to make dish that even the little ones can have fun helping with. Popcorn balls can be jazzed up by adding food coloring or additional treats into the mix before rolling them into balls. Cooks who are handy with food decorating might even want to consider dying the popcorn orange and green to mold into little pumpkin shapes. Whichever way you decide to decorate or not decorate (minimalism is in after all) your popcorn balls, chefs can relax knowing popcorn and caramel always make for a delightful combination.

Caramel Popcorn Balls

6 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

6 tbsp. honey

3/4 tsp. baking soda

10 cups popcorn

2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups honey-roasted peanuts (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugars and honey to the pan and cook to 300 degrees over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the syrup is thick and smooth. Add baking soda and stir carefully to incorporate.

Remove any unpopped kernels from popcorn and then place it a lightly oiled bowl. Pour caramel syrup over popcorn and toss to combine, using oiled wooden spoons. When popcorn has cooled slightly but is not quite set, mix in the salt (and optional peanuts). With oiled hands, form the mix into 2-inch balls. Keep a bowl of cold water nearby to dip your hands into if the mixture gets warm or sticky. Place balls on a sheet tray and once cool, store in an airtight container.

For those looking to have more fun with their popcorn balls, feel free to mix in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips or candy corn when adding the salt. Chefs can also get a bit more festive by adding food coloring when making the syrup to dye the popcorn fall colors.