Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maple Cider Popcorn Balls

I have made traditional popcorn balls a couple of times in my life...they never quite tasted as good as they looked.  They were too "one note" for my tastes.  I saw this recipe in the Tasting Table Kitchen Blog and thought, "One more chance."  Glad I did. 


And the best part is that in spite of the copious amounts of butter and sugar via marshmallows, one could maybe sort of justify it as a more healthy snack than your average buttery sugary snack since it boasts puffed versions of the ancient (and therefore good for you, right?) grains kamut and, I can feel my cholesterol dropping even as I write this.  And the carmelized maple-y apple thing really puts it to another level.

The real key is that they are definitely not One Note Nancys (apologies to my many friends named Nancy.)  The different grains (and kettle corn) create different texture and the caramelized maple syrup/apple cider/marshmallow glaze ain't half bad.  Puffed Kamut and Puffed Millet can be found at Whole Foods, or more cheaply at Sprouts Market.  

And speaking of Sprouts Market, word is that it will be opening in Westwood on May 1st.  That means I can walk to purchase their amazing dark chocolate covered honeycomb.  Good thing it is a very long walk.

1½ cups unsweetened puffed rice cereal
1½ cups puffed Kamut cereal (or substitute puffed rice cereal)
½ cup puffed millet cereal
7 cups store-bought kettle corn or freshly popped popcorn (preferably kettle corn-style, lightly buttered or unflavored)
¾ cup apple cider or juice
¼ cup maple syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 ounces marshmallows (either 3 cups mini marshmallows or 3¼ cups jumbo marshmallows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously coat the interior of a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. On a rimmed baking sheet, place the puffed rice, puffed Kamut and puffed millet, and bake in the oven until fragrant and toasted, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to the greased bowl. Add the popcorn and use your fingers to combine.
2. To a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, add the apple cider and maple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the maple-cider mixture produces thick, foamy bubbles and the temperature on an instant-read thermometer is 250°, 12 to 15 minutes (you can also test the temperature by dipping a metal spoon into the hot maple caramel and then submerging it in ice water; after 5 seconds, you should be able to press the bit of cooled caramel into a soft ball) ( took a LOT longer than 15 minutes for me and I ended up raising the heat level to medium high.) Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter, whisking to combine, then whisk in the cinnamon and salt.
3. While the maple-apple cider mixture caramelizes, melt the marshmallows: In a medium skillet set over medium-high heat, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, add the marshmallows and reduce the heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally until the marshmallows are melted, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the maple-cider caramel into the marshmallow mixture, whisking to combine. Immediately scrape the marshmallow-maple caramel over the popcorn mixture and use a wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. The mixture will become very webby.
4. Immediately use the nonstick cooking spray to generously spray your hands and form the mixture into nine 3-inch balls, respraying your hands as needed to prevent sticking. Place the popcorn balls on a baking sheet and set aside for least 1 hour to set up before eating. (To store, wrap the popcorn balls in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container for up to 5 days.)