Chewy popcorn balls are a Halloween tradition for us. I highly recommend eating them while watching a Halloween movie. Like maybe a cheesy 90's one with a cat named Binx and references to 'yabos'.
If you know what I'm talking about, I love you.
These popcorn balls are very sweet and heavy on the caramel. If you like a higher popcorn ratio you can add an additional half bag of popcorn. These stay soft and chewy even once cooled but need to be eaten the same day. The popcorn gets "stale" after that so unfortunately these aren't great to make ahead.
This is a recipe you'll want to read through before beginning because if you don't live at sea level you may need to do a little calculation to find the right temperature for cooking your caramel.
That said, I've made these several times without a candy thermometer, just cooking about 5-7 minutes and they've been fine every time. They may just stick to your teeth a little more. :) I live 4500 ft above sea level so I can't vouch for that happening if you live at a very different altitude, but so far these have been foolproof for me.
Gooey Chewy Caramel Popcorn Balls
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes
-2 bags microwave popcorn, lightly salted or kettle corn (You can also pop your own with an airpopper- pop 1 cup of kernals)
-1/4 cup butter
-1 cup packed light brown sugar
-1/2 cup light corn syrup
-2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (*not* the whole can.)
-1/2 tsp vanilla
Pop your popcorn. (If you use an airpopper, give the popcorn a few good shakes of salt once popped.) Sift out ALL the unpopped kernals. Spray a HUGE metal bowl with Pam and pour the popped popcorn into that. Put it in the oven at 200 degrees F to keep the popcorn warm while you make the caramel.
In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Stir well and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the 2/3 cup condensed milk. Simmer, stirring constantly for 5-7 minutes*. If you have a candy thermometer you want the temperature to reach about 238 degrees (soft ball stage) for chewy popcorn balls. If you are at a high altitude you need to cook it to a lower temperature or it will be ROCK HARD. (At my altitude of 4500 ft I cook to 229 degrees instead.)
< This is a great resource to help you adjust for your altitude. This really is essential for candy making. If you don't want lollipop-hard caramel you need to subtract 2 degrees for each 1000 ft above sea level your location is. Feel free to google the altitude of your location if for some strange reason you don't have that memorized along with your phone number.>
Remove caramel from heat and stir in vanilla. Remove bowl of popcorn from oven using a hot pad and pour hot caramel over the popcorn. Stir with a spoon until popcorn is evenly coated.
To form into popcorn balls, place sandwich baggies on your hands and butter them. (This will protect your hands from the heat and keep the caramel from sticking to your hands.) When mixture is cool enough to touch, shape popcorn into small balls roughly the size of your palm. Set aside and repeat until your popcorn is gone. Recipe makes 10-12 small/medium sized balls.
*It can take up to 20 minutes to reach the correct temperature depending on your altitude, weather conditions, and stove. As long as you have a thermometer don't panic if it's taking a long time. Be patient and don't walk away. Otherwise, cook 5-7 minutes and be happy with sticky caramel. If you eat these within the hour you probably won't even notice that it's sticky.