Yuletide Popcorn Balls

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

When winter comes around, I often pull out the 1920s-era recipe for my Grandma Dilley’s popcorn balls. Half popcorn, half candy, these spiced caramelized delights are light, airy, sweet, flavorful — and festive.

While relatively easy to make, these popcorn balls take a bit of finagling. Temperature is critical, and you have to move quickly to form the popcorn balls while the candy is still hot… without burning your fingers. The good news is that when you’re done making them, they last for quite a while in a sealed jar, and they look decorative, too.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Yuletide Popcorn Balls

14 c popped popcorn (I like Clem’s Homegrown Popcorn from Castle Rock Township, MN — available at Golden Fig in St. Paul)
1 c sugar
⅓ c water
⅓ c corn syrup
1 tsp salt
¼ c butter
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp allspice
pinch of cayenne

Pop your popcorn and put it into a very large bowl.

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, salt, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently and check with a candy thermometer until temperature reads 255°F.

Remove from heat and mix in vanilla and spices.

Pour the mixture over the popcorn and stir with spoon until candy is well distributed.

Carefully pick up popcorn and gently form into spheres, about the size of a tennis ball.

Be careful as candy is very hot but cools quickly and must be formed before cold.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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About the Author

Becca Dilley

Becca is an editorial and wedding photographer based in Minneapolis. Her work has been featured in Saveur, Food & Wine, The Knot, Minnesota Bride, Lavender, Veil, and Culture, as well as City Pages, and the Star Tribune. Together with her husband, Heavy Table editor James Norton, she has documented local food culture as photographer for The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin (UW Press 2009) and Lake Superior Flavors (UM Press 2014).

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this Becca, it’s a blast from the past for me, my family never made them but they showed up at school and friends’ houses a lot in the 60’s. What happened to them, I don’t see them much now. Oh, they morphed into Rice Krispie Bars…..popcorn is better in my opinion.

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