My daughter-in-law, Lesley, is a creative and talented cook. Her culinary creations contain unique combinations of ingredients that surprise and delight the palate. I happen to know that Lesley’s favorite snack is freshly popped corn topped with pepper, so when I suggested she join me in my kitchen to transform her peppery popcorn into sweet, savory mini-popcorn balls, she thought it was a great idea.
Lesley used white pepper to avoid dark specks in the popcorn, and added cayenne and chipotle for a hot, smoky bite. The peanut butter/pepper combination was unexpectedly addictive, and helped us to create round, sticky popcorn balls. Dark rum, along with a few surprising spices, make this an interesting, grownup snack.
If you have a candy thermometer, go ahead and use it to heat the corn syrup mixture to the perfect temperature. If you don’t have one, don’t sweat it – I recall making popcorn balls successfully with my mother countless times with no thermometer in sight.
Don’t forget to warn innocent guests about the peppery, nutty, adult nature of the popcorn balls. Or, to be on the safe side, pop a lot of corn and set out a variety of ingredients so your friends and family can invent their own creations. Who knows what you’ll come up with?
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white vinegar
12 cups popped corn
¼ cup peanut butter
¼ cup dark rum
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon chipotle pepper
Butter, for shaping balls
In a medium saucepan, combine corn syrup, sugar, water salt and vinegar. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, for 6 to 7 minutes until thickened (or until mixture reaches 255° on a candy thermometer).
Pour corn syrup mixture over popped corn and stir gently. In large bowl, mix together peanut butter, rum, white pepper, ginger, celery seed, cayenne, and chipotle. Pour popcorn mixture into bowl and mix in gently but thoroughly.
Allow popcorn mixture to cool enough to handle and to stick together easily when pressed slightly. Shape into 2 inch balls with buttered hands and cool on waxed paper.
Makes about 16 small popcorn balls.