Yield: about 12 large popcorn balls
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp (2 oz) butter, cubed
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3-oz bag plain microwave popcorn (yield: about 11 cups)
- 1 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup crisp rice cereal
- 1/2 cup mini marshmallows
- 1 cup miniature M&Ms or other candies
1. Pop the microwave popcorn and place it in a large bowl that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, salt, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts.
3. Insert a candy thermometer and boil the candy, without stirring, until the thermometer reads 244 degrees F (118 C).
4. Once the candy reaches the proper temperature, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Pour half of the hot sugary syrup over the popcorn in the bowl, and stir until it's well-distributed. Add the chopped nuts, cereal, and marshmallows, and then pour on the rest of the sugar syrup and stir until everything is coated. Right before you're ready to form the balls, stir in the M&Ms. If you stir them in too early, the heat will melt the candy coating and smear chocolate everywhere. As an alternative, you can leave them out of the popcorn balls or choose to press them on the outside after the balls are formed.
6. Wet your hands or spray them with nonstick cooking spray, then form the popcorn mixture into large balls about 3" in diameter. Re-wet or re-spray your hands as needed. Don't be afraid to firmly press the balls together as you're forming them so that they don't fall apart.
7. Let the balls cool to room temperature, then serve. These Packed Popcorn Balls taste best on the day that they are made, but can be enjoyed up to 24 hours from the time they are made. (After this period, they begin to taste stale.) If you're not eating them immediately, wrap them individually in cling wrap.