15 December 2012

Gift Toffee: Popcorn Balls

The decorations are out and hung on the tree,
There are people to visit, so many to see;
What gift to bring, just something small,
like toffee and popcorn made into a ball...

These toffee popcorn balls are easy to make and are very light and crisp, not densely packed, with the toffee threads merely holding the ball together. They always remind me of bringing them to the school fair, all tied up in crisp cellophane, when we were little and toffee was all we wanted. Kids would have their teeth glued together with the sticky toffee that come in colourful patty pans and we would crunch through the popcorn balls, jaw untethered!

The basic recipe below makes 24 balls (around the size of a tennis ball), the toffee is clear and sweet with a hint of vanilla. It comes from our old paperback Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook which we have had since before I was born and is now missing its cover and is in two parts - a very well loved cookbook. For something a little different you can add a few drops of cinnamon essence and a hint of red food colouring to the toffee right at the end when you add the vanilla to make them even more festive. I also like to sprinkle them with good flaked salt for that juxtaposition of salty and sweet.
While kids love to eat them they definitely shouldn't be around the hot sugar while you make them. So ship them out for the day and surprise them with a ball of sweet crunchy popcorn when they get home!
makes 24 popcorn balls, this recipe halves easily if you only want 12 balls
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup glucose syrup (or light corn syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 cup uncooked popcorn kernels (should make approx 20 cups when popped)
  • Optional: cinnamon essence and red food colouring
You will also need a little butter, a small bowl of cold water or a candy thermometer, a long handled spoon, a large wide bowl (to put the popcorn in and pour over the toffee) and a baking tray lined with baking paper.
For notes on using a candy thermometer or the 'cold water' method read through the Butter Crunch Toffee recipe.
Soft ball stage: syrup is firm and threads are flexible not brittle
Stir the toffee into the popcorn
Form tennis sized balls and allow to cool 
  1. set out all ingredients and pop the corn kernels, it should yield approximately 20 cups once popped
  2. use butter (or a light olive oil spray) to grease a large bowl and fill with the popped corn then side aside (this should stop the hot toffee from sticking to the sides of your bowl, if it does stick just fill your bowl with warm water and set aside for 15 minutes, this will dissolve any toffee residue)
  3. lightly butter the sides of a heavy based saucepan and add sugar, water, salt, glucose (corn) syrup and vinegar
  4. cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves, if you are using a candy thermometer, out it in once the sugar has fully dissolved
  5. continue cooking over a medium high heat until you go reach soft crack stage (132˚C / 270˚F ), a little of this dropped in cold water this should form a hard ball which won't change its shape when removed from the water, any threads of syrup will flex before they break and are not brittle
  6. remove from heat and stir in vanilla
  7. slowly pour over the popped corn then using the long handled spoon mix well until the toffee starts to cool
  8. lightly butter your hands and working quickly shape into balls and set on lined baking sheet. This is a tricky step as if you pick up the popcorn toffee too soon it will burn and if you wait too long you will have a solid bowl of toffee. All I can say is be cautious and careful, wait until stirring the toffee / popcorn starts to meet resistance as the toffee cools and hardens, then lightly touch the popcorn to see if you can handle it. When you can touch the popcorn but it's still warm (not hot) work like the wind and press into loose balls quickly
  9. once they have completely cooled, store in an airtight container until you a ready to share them, then either pile them in a bowl or wrap them in cellophane tied up with string (don't leave them out too long in very humid weather as they will start to go sticky and then the popcorn goes soggy)!

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