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Course: Sweets
Keyword: Candy, Fall, Hacks, Halloween, Make-Ahead, Popcorn Balls

Popcorn Balls

Alton Brown's Popcorn Balls Recipe
ACTIVE TIME: 25 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 35 minutes
Yield: 10 servings
These candied popcorn balls with cocoa nibs will teach those little punks to come knockin’ on my door on Halloween.
Actually, these sticky, molasses-coated popcorn things are delicious, and individually wrapped, small versions (say, 2 inches in diameter) are perfect for trick-or-treat-giving. And if every other one just happens to have broccoli in the middle of it, or maybe some garlic…well that’s the “trick” to the “treat” now isn’t it?
Both U.S. standard and metric measurements are listed, but for consistent results, go metric.
This recipe first appeared in Season 14 of Good Eats.
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  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 85 grams popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 teaspoon popcorn salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, optional but strongly suggested
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Nonstick spray for shaping
  • Broccoli florets and peeled garlic cloves (optional but suggested)

Specialized Hardware

Digital kitchen scale
Ice cream disher
Alton Brown's Popcorn Balls Recipe
ACTIVE TIME: 25 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 35 minutes
Yield: 10 servings


  • Combine the oil, popcorn, and salt in a 6-quart metal mixing bowl. Cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke 10 slits in the top with a knife. Put the bowl over medium heat and shake constantly using tongs to hold the bowl. Continue shaking until the popcorn finishes popping, about 3 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and carefully remove the foil. Stir in any salt that is on the side of the bowl and remove any un-popped kernels. Sprinkle in the cocoa nibs.
  • Combine the corn syrup, sugar, molasses, water, salt, and vanilla in a 3 1/2-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil, about 3 minutes. Remove the lid and clip on a candy thermometer. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 250ºF. take the pan off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, and immediately pour the mixture over the popcorn. Stir to coat the popcorn evenly. Cool until the mixture can be handled safely, about 3 minutes.
  • Using a large ice cream disher, scoop the popcorn mixture into 2-or 3-inch rounds and place on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan, smoothing with nonstick spray as needed (this is best achieved by a 2-person operation). Cool completely. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or put them in an airtight container. Store for up to 3 days at room temperature.
  • If you want to hide a "trick" in the center every now and then, just spread some of the popcorn in an oiled hand, position the broccoli or garlic on top and mold the popcorn mixture around it. Actually, I use nitrile gloves from the drug store as well as nonstick spray.
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