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How To Make Vegan Popcorn Balls

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Crunchy, chewy, salty,sweet, and customizable—the humble handmade popcorn ball is a festive fall treat that deserves a comeback. These authentic popcorn balls are made with a mix of sugars (including molasses for an old-fashioned cracker jack taste or agave for a neutral sweetness) boiled into a syrup that gives the corn a glossy exterior with a crisp-chewy bite. Wield your candy thermometer like a wand and you’ll be a popcorn ballin’ wizard in one batch flat.

Candy Popcorn Balls

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Makes 18 to 20 balls

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels
  • ½ cup light molasses or agave nectar
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. vegan butter or coconut oil, plus additional for greasing bowl and hands
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Generously grease the inside of a big (two-quart) mixing bowl with vegan butter or coconut oil. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

    In a three-quart Dutch oven or similar large pot, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat, add popcorn, and cover. Use oven-mitted hands to hold the lid and pop the corn (occasionally shaking the pot). Transfer popped corn to the mixing bowl. If using mix-ins (see right), add them now. 

    Clip your candy thermometer to the inside of a large, tall saucepan. Add molasses or agave, sugar, water, vinegar, and salt. Bring mixture to a vigorous boil over medium-high heat. When the mixture hits the candy-making “hard-ball stage” (between 250 and 265 degrees F), turn off heat. Stir in the vegan butter or coconut oil and vanilla with a silicon spatula. Pour immediately over the popcorn and use the spatula to vigorously fold the mixture (wear an oven mitt for protection!) till evenly coated. 

    Let the popcorn mixture cool just enough to handle. Coat your hands with vegan butter or coconut oil and shape the popcorn into 2"– 2½" balls. Place finished balls on the parchment paper. If adding flake salt or sprinkles, sprinkle while still warm. 

    Try the following variations for a tasty twist:

    Chocolate Drizzle: Melt ½ cup dark chocolate chips in a double boiler and stir in 1 Tbsp. coconut oil. For neat and pretty drizzles, scoop mixture into a plastic pastry bag, snip off the tip, and crisscross over popcorn balls. 

    Cracker Jill (make candy with molasses): Add ½ cup roasted peanuts to the popcorn before the syrup. Sprinkle flake salt over still-warm balls.

    Creepy Halloween Balls (make candy with agave): Add ½ cup vegan white chocolate chips, candy-covered chocolate drops, or mini marshmallows to the popcorn before the syrup. Shake ½ cup Halloween sprinkles over still-warm balls.

    By Terry Hope Romero

    Photographed by Emily Hawkes

    This article originally appeared in BUST's October/November 2018 print issue. Subscribe today!

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