My uncle Joe has been making popcorn balls for many years. It is always a big treat to eat the caramel popcorn right after he mixes it, when it’s at its freshest and most delicious. Sometimes it gets eaten before it can be made into balls! The whey caramel sauce is fluffy, rich in flavor, and has the perfect blend of salty and sweet flavors. Here is the recipe straight from Joe!
Experimenting with the whey sauce and popcorn ratio is a good idea. However, I’ve always found that 3 batches of popcorn (1 1/2 cups of unpopped kernels) and a double batch of sauce is a good mix. Other ingredients can be added to enhance the flavor such as cashews, peanuts, and chocolate. The recipe below will yield a very caramely batch of popcorn balls. Pop a little extra popcorn so you have it on hand so you can reach the right consistency. The process is best when you play things by ear.
3/4 cup Orville Redenbacher Yellow Air Pop Popcorn Kernels (fresher the unpopped kernels the better – other brands and types of popcorn simply do not work as well)
1/2 cup white sugar (raw sugar is a great substitute)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup whey powder (not protein whey powder)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup salted butter
2 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
In standard air pop popcorn popper, pop popcorn into one large mixing bowl, making sure to not get any unpopped kernels into the bowl.
In small cup, combine the salt and soda – mix and set aside.
In small cup add vanilla – set aside.
Combine the white and brown sugars, whey, corn syrup, water, and butter in large pot (end result of whey sauce will be almost triple the initial volume of the ingredients so get a big enough pot). Constantly stir mixture over low heat until the ingredients are completely mixed, increase temperature to medium low and continue stirring (always stirring or will burn). Increase heat to medium and stir constantly. Once all the sugar crystals have been melted, continue heating and rapidly stirring for an additional 2 minutes.
Stir in vanilla (will begin to boil off so stir it in quickly). Immediately add the baking soda and salt mixture, stirring quickly. The mixture will rise up in size and turn lighter in color with white streaks. Fold and stir until mixture is the same color. Immediately remove from heat and pour whey sauce over popcorn. Mix and fold popcorn and whey sauce with wood spoon until evenly coated.
Can be eaten right out of the bowl, or immediately formed into balls. If forming into balls, lay out a few sheets of wax paper. Apply butter or butter flavored Crisco to hands to keep whey sauce from sticking. Form balls to whatever size you desire and place on wax paper. After a few popcorn balls have been formed, running cold water over your hands and reapplying butter or butter flavored Crisco is useful as the popcorn mixture is really hot. Enjoy!