Mom used to make old fashioned popcorn balls for Halloween when my sisters and I were young. But then her reliable candy thermometer broke, and she says she could never get the popcorn balls just right after that. Her fall tradition sadly ended up biting the dust.
Admittedly, I can be a bit of a popcorn ball snob. I learned very early on that many popcorn balls are densely packed and hard as rocks. After almost breaking a tooth a few too many times, I’m now very hesitant when one is offered to me.
But I still crave them, all sweet and sticky.
So, because I’ve missed them so much, I came up with a solution…Marshmallow Popcorn Balls.
The general list of ingredients comes from the recipe for my aunt Roxie’s popcorn cake. I played with the recipe a bit and made popcorn balls, a fun individual treat for a fall harvest or Halloween party. Unlike traditional popcorn balls, these don’t require a candy thermometer, and simply can’t be made into hockey pucks. They’re sweet and salty, crunchy and chewy. And soft enough to be pulled apart with your fingers. Incredibly perfect. Maybe even perfect enough for Mom to revive her popcorn ball making tradition…
My aunt Roxie was such a dear to mail me her original Popcorn Cake recipe cards, a handful of special family photos, and a lengthy letter telling of all the celebrations this cake has witnessed over the past 30 years. Roxie’s mom (upper right photo), now 92 years old, started making these cakes in an angel food cake pan for her grandchildren’s birthdays. So popular, the recipe became part of her family’s holidays, too…green and red gumdrops for Christmas, orange for Halloween, green for St. Patrick’s Day, and red for Valentine’s Day.
It’s great fun for me to hold these photos of my aunt Roxie (lower left photo, holding her grandson), my uncle Arnie (upper right photo), and my four cousins…all having their moment with this fabulous cake. They bring back so many happy memories of birthday parties and holidays celebrated together.
I was happy to learn that this tradition is still going strong in Roxie’s family, and that it has managed to spread beyond the family lines, into the homes of their friends. She doesn’t think their friends have quite as much fun with it, though, since they have taken to actually cutting the cake into pieces (gasp!). When Roxie serves the popcorn cake, her family and friends just pull off as much as they want. I have to agree…pulling a sticky marshmallowy handful of popcorn cake away from its straight pan-formed edges is just part of the delicious experience!
Thank you, Roxie, for sharing your stories and photos, and making this recipe even more special to me than it already was!
- 14 c. popped corn
- 1 10-oz. bag miniature marshmallows
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1-1/2 c. dry roasted peanuts
- 1-1/2 c. diced orange gumdrops or orange slices
- small orange nonpareils
- 1 T. butter, for non-stick fingers
Place popped corn in a very large bowl, removing any unpopped kernels.
In a medium pan over medium heat, melt the butter and marshmallows, stirring frequently. Take care to not let the marshmallows scorch. When the marshmallows are almost fully melted, take pan off heat and stir to melt completely. Pour half the marshmallow mixture over the popped corn and fold gently to coat the popcorn. Pour the remaining marshmallow mixture over the popped corn and fold again to coat completely. Add the peanuts and fold again. Add half the orange pieces and fold. Add the remaining orange pieces, folding to fully incorporate.
Place the tablespoon of butter on a plate and lightly rub some on your fingertips and palms. Gather up a generous half cup of marshmallow popcorn mixture (I like my popcorn balls on the smaller side) and gently mold into a ball shape, almost 2-1/2'' in diameter. Don't press the balls too tightly, or they will have a harder texture. Aim for balls that are held together as lightly as possible, and they will be much more enjoyable to eat. Place on waxed paper and sprinkle lightly with nonpareils.
To give as treats during trick-or-treating or at a Halloween or harvest party, bag individually and tie with a festive ribbon.
Adapted from my aunt Roxie Klein's popcorn cake recipe.