Simple pleasures, such as hot cider on a crisp morning or a still-warm cinnamon-sugared donut, are often times the best ones. We took some of our favorite fall-time flavors and rolled them into one sticky snack: the popcorn ball. Kettle corn gives these balls that perfect sweet-salty crunch, while puffed cereals adds a light, airy quality. But what makes these popcorn balls truly special is the maple-cider caramel that we whisk into the melted marshmallows. It's total crunchy-sweet satisfaction.
Maple-Caramel Popcorn Balls
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: Nine 3-inch popcorn balls
Cook Time: 30 minutes
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). 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.)