A Christmas Tradition.
And A Giant Weight-Off When They are Done.
Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I head up to my Mom and Dad’s in Hayward to do an insane amount of activity in about 48 hours. The usual list includes making:
Chocolate Balls (coming soon!), Popcorn Balls, Cornflake Wreath Cookies (with my own lazy twist) and a Gingerbread House. I also then make a wreath with boughs my mom has leftover from a big wreath-making extravaganza weekend with friends. And finally, when I think I can take no more, my 69 year-old mom, with far more energy than I, rallies me into the car to go get my cheap christmas tree from a church lot up there.
Then, I hop in the car with my two kids and usually my niece, but occasionally a nephew or two, and head home.
I would like to say that this weekend is a warm and fuzzy, calm and cozy time of memory making. The reality is that my TV-starved kids, let loose at the cabin, out from under their Dad’s watchful eye, turn into 18-hour TV zombies while systematically clicking off the DVR’d episodes of CSI, NCIS, the Mentalist and anything else my parents have squirreled away.
I know, I shouldn’t let them. But the truth is I don’t really care. At least not for this one weekend. We don’t watch TV at home and I fear I am creating the kind of monster I occasionally brushed up against as a kid. The kind whose parents didn’t let them eat candy or junk food and would somehow find themselves at my house where there was always bags of chips, fun-size candy bars, ice cream and pop. My mouth would hang ajar as I watched these seemingly normal kids come unglued in an uncontrolled eating frenzy. It always seemed to me that if the parents had demystified candy and let the kids figure it out, they wouldn’t be such fiends. But who knows.
I really fear that I am just such a parent in the TV department.
I blame it on Dave.
He’s a bit of a control freak, you know.
But I hate TV, too. So I go along with it.
To a point.
What the heck? How did I get going on this tangent? For crying out loud. Back on point.
I’ll cut to the chase and stop beating around the bush: No, the kids don’t help me with the baking. Ironically, they think that I am a control freak.
Funny, isn’t it?
Anyway, I have learned to let certain things go. Like the gingerbread house, for example.
But the popcorn balls? Are you insane? Sorry, but unless you are cruel, don’t make your kids help you with these.
I have never, ever had a popcorn ball like this recipe makes. It was my Grandma Esther’s recipe and she taught me how to make them a few years before she died. I taught my mom (I love to say that), and now we make them every year. We guard them with our life and never offer them to guests. They are too precious.
I wish I was kidding.
Because I feel bad about that, I would like to share the recipe so that you can make them yourself. It takes my mom and I about two hours to make eight batches. That’s how many we need to make it through Christmas. Each batch makes 8-10 popcorn balls.
It’s easy. Just a pain. First, you pop all the popcorn and then measure 8 level cups into a big bowl.
Then you cook the syrup. Remember: DON’T STIR!
Pour over the popcorn:
Butter your hands and form them into balls. Work QUICKLY! (Don’t worry, my mom always makes funny faces like this. I’m not worried about her wrath for posting it because, remember? She doesn’t READ my blog! Revenge is sweet. And Dad? Don’t tell on me.)
Then sit back and have a beer before you move to on to the dreaded wreath-making project:
Pop enough popcorn for the amount of balls you plan to make. For our 8 batches, that amount is a heaping grocery bag full. I use a StirCrazy popper and it works great. I always lightly salt the popcorn as I go.
CALIBRATE YOUR THERMOMETER! Candy thermometers are notoriously inaccurate. Calibrate it by putting it in boiling water. If it doesn’t read 212 F, then make note of how high or low it is and adjust your recipe accordingly. My mom’s cheapo (which broke in the middle of our frenzy this year) is off a whopping TWELVE degrees. If I hadn’t known that, the popcorn balls would have been ruined. Don’t take this step lightly.
In a regular sized saucepan, add
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c butter
1/4 c light corn syrup
1/4 c water
1/8 – 1/4 tsp salt
food coloring to make the colors you want.
Place all ingredients into a medium heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. DO NOT STIR. You may gently swirl the pan in the beginning melt stage, but then just leave it alone.
Boil to 240. It will rise to about 235 fairly quickly and a take another minute or two to reach the last few degrees. Be sure to take any thermometer inaccuracies into account at this point!
Immediately take off heat and pour over 8 level cups of the popped popcorn (use a large 8 cup measuring bowl to scoop and measure popcorn into a large bowl). Use a rubber spatula to get every last drop of syrup out of the pan.
Stir syrup into popcorn well, so that kernels are evenly coated. Using the rubber spatula, be sure to keep scraping the bottom, where the syrup pools.
Butter your hands well (to protect from heat and to prevent from sticking) and begin forming into small balls. Work quickly! It gets harder to form balls as syrup cools.
Place balls onto waxed paper.
Here’s a few tips:
Begin with the lightest color and work to the darkest. For example this year we made yellow, orange, and 2 batches of red. Then I cleaned the pan by swirling in hot water to get most of the color out. Then we did 2 batches of blue and then 2 batches of green. That way you don’t muddy the color and aren’t cleaning the pan after every batch.
Store the balls in the giant, 2 gallon zipper bags to keep from drying out.
Hide one of the bags somewhere no one else knows about. That way, when Dave (aka ‘the skinny German’) eats four every night and they disappear long before the allotted time, you will be able to have some for yourself.