How to Make Popcorn Syrup

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Popcorn syrup turns a delicious salty treat into an equally delicious sweet one. This old-fashioned concoction provided isolated farm families with a winter sweet, and homemade popcorn balls or munch is still an economical confection for your family. Follow the steps for a traditional caramel-corn syrup, or try out some quicker variations.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. light (white) corn syrup
  • 2-4 tbsp. butter (if you want to make popcorn balls, reserve 1 tbsp. to coat your hands)
  • Greased cookie sheet (for popcorn balls)
  • 2-quart stainless steel saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Pastry brush
  • Candy thermometer
  • Large mixing bowl
  • 4-6 cups popped corn
  • For variations:
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • or 1 16-oz. bag marshmallows
  • or 1 16-oz. bag vanilla caramels

Making Syrup

  • In saucepan, dissolve sugar in water, stirring with wooden spoon. Add butter and corn syrup. Bring to an active boil. As drops collect on saucepan sides, brush back into boiling mixture with damp pastry brush.

  • Warm candy thermometer under hot water faucet and attach to side of saucepan. Boil mixture, without stirring, until thermometer reaches 234 degrees. Remove syrup from heat.

  • Pour syrup over popped corn. Use wooden spoon to scrape the last of the syrup out of the saucepan -- it is extremely hot and can burn you. Carefully stir popcorn and syrup together with wooden spoon. Let cool, stirring occasionally, to break up clumps.

  • Rub your hands with butter if you plan to make popcorn balls. Let popcorn/syrup mixture cool just till you can handle it safely.
    Mold corn into balls, using wooden spoon to help. Balls will be messy at first, sticking together better as they cool. Most cooks revisit them before they cool completely to improve ball shapes.

Variations

  • Substitute maple syrup for sugar and water. Follow directions for traditional syrup. Experienced Northeastern cooks caution: this works with 100 percent maple syrup. Do not try with part-maple or artificially flavored syrups.

  • Melt marshmallows with butter in a double boiler or microwave. (These are the only two ingredients you need.) Follow directions for pouring over corn and handling. Remember that marshmallows melted this way are much hotter than the campfire-toasted kind. Handle as carefully as traditional syrup.

  • Melt caramels with butter in a double boiler or microwave. You can use all vanilla caramels or a mixture of vanilla and chocolate caramel blocks. Do not use chocolate-covered caramels, unless you're ready to experiment a bit. Some chocolate coatings melt well but others turn granular because of other ingredients in the coating.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you want a chocolate taste to your sweetened popcorn, toss in some chocolate chips when mixing syrup and corn. The remaining heat is enough to melt the chocolate. If you're making a munchy mixture, add nuts at mixing time. If your mixture begins to solidify faster than you can work, place bowl in a 200-degree oven for 5-10 minutes to make it easier to handle.
  • Even though popcorn munch and popcorn balls make a great treat for children, cooking with sugar syrup is adult work. Remember the thermometer reading -- 234 degrees is above water-boiling temperature. Even adults can get burned. Some cooks prepare a bowl of ice water next to their work area, just in case.

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