Five Easy Popcorn Treat Recipes

In a classic holiday tradition, popcorn kernels were strung together to make a festive garland to adorn the tree. It always seems like a fun idea, but I bet a lot of it was enjoyed before it made it to the string—it’s hard to resist the crunchy snack.

This holiday season you can keep the ornaments from jeopardy by whipping up easy homemade popcorn treats to serve at parties or package as gifts. Plus, popcorn is gluten-free, so it also makes a great alternative treat for family and friends who can’t eat the wheat-based holiday cookies.

Since December 16 is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day—because, really, why wouldn’t it be?—I am sharing mostly chocolate-based goodie recipes in honor of the occasion, which are courtesy of The Popcorn Board. The Coconut-Ginger Popcorn Truffles are actually covered with a drizzle of chocolate, but the others loosely honor the chocolate “holiday” by melting and mixing in the chocolate—“enveloped,” if you will—for a variety of savory sweet crunchy goodness.

And, I must give a shout out to a variation on the good ol’ popcorn ball. I remember my mom making caramel popcorn balls at Christmas when I was a kid; it was always a fun treat that only came around once a year. Here, they are jazzed up with a seasonal flavor of cranberries and a hint of orange in the mix.

If you have an air popper, that works well to pop the corn for these recipes. If most of your popcorn is made in a bag in the microwave these days, check out the tips for stovetop popping below since you want to have unflavored and unsalted popcorn for the recipes. Plus, when figuring out how much you need, keep in mind that since kernels expand up to 40 times their original size when popped, you never need very much to add up: 1 ounce of unpopped kernels, which is 1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons, makes 4 cups (1 quart) popped.

Stovetop Popcorn Tips

  1. Pour enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of a pan and turn on medium-high heat. Allow pan to warm. The best popping temperature is between 400°F and 460°F. Oil burns at 500°F. If your oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot.
  2. Add enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer, shake to coat the kernels with oil, and cover with lid (too many kernels will “blow” the lid).
  3. Corn will begin to pop within 3 minutes. When the popping slows, listen until you can count 2 seconds between pops. Turn off heat and remove pan from stove. Lift the lid to allow steam to escape away from your face. Steam may burn and remaining kernels may continue to pop.

Coconut-Ginger Popcorn Truffles

Makes 3 dozen truffles

5 cups popped popcorn
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter
3 tablespoons candied ginger, minced
1/2 cup shredded coconut
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter

1. Place popped popcorn in large bowl.

2. Place marshmallows and coconut oil or butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until melted; remove from heat.

3. Stir in shredded coconut and candied ginger. Mix well. Pour over popcorn and mix again.

4. Spray hands with nonstick cooking spray, then scoop up 1 tablespoon of popcorn mixture.

5. Roll mixture with hands to form a ball. Place ball on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Repeat to make 36 balls.

6. For the topping: Place chocolate in small, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high for 1 minute, until melted. If not completely melted, microwave for another 15 seconds and stir again.

7. Stir 1 teaspoon coconut oil into melted chocolate.

8. Place chocolate in zipper-style plastic bag and seal. Snip off a tiny corner of bag. Pipe chocolate on popcorn balls in a decorative pattern. Garnish with extra shredded coconut and extra minced candied ginger if desired. Place truffles in a cool place until chocolate is set.


Nutty Chocolate Caramel Corn Clusters

Makes 24 servings

3 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup marcona almonds, whole almonds or peanuts
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.

2. Line a large, rimmed baking pan (17×12-inch) with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

3. Spray a large mixing bowl (not plastic) with cooking spray and add popcorn and nuts; set aside.

4. In a medium saucepan, combine chocolate morsels, corn syrup, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Pour over popcorn and toss well to coat. Spread in an even layer onto prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

5. Cool completely in pan. Break into pieces; store in an airtight container.


Nutty Popcorn Fudge

Makes 32 squares

4 cups popped popcorn
1 (18-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Line a 9×13-inch pan with foil; set aside.

2. Melt chips, condensed milk, and butter in large saucepan, stirring until smooth and remove from heat.

3. Stir in popcorn, nuts, and vanilla. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Chill 2 hours or until firm.

4. Remove from pan and cut into squares.


Popcorn and Peanut Truffles

Makes about 30 pieces

6 cups popped popcorn
1 cup roasted and salted peanuts
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup honey

1. Stir popped popcorn and peanuts together in a large bowl and set aside.

2. In microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips 10 seconds. Stir chips and repeat, stirring after each 10 seconds, until chips are melted. Warm honey in microwave 10 seconds and stir into chocolate until well blended.

3. Pour chocolate mixture over popcorn mixture and stir until popcorn is evenly coated. Using a small ice cream scoop, push popcorn mixture into scoop and release onto wax paper to form “truffles.” Refrigerate until firm. Store truffles in an airtight container up to 5 days.


Cranberry Popcorn Balls

Makes 18 balls

2 cups sugar
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce, slightly mashed
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 quarts unsalted popped popcorn

1. Combine all ingredients, except popcorn, in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil; lower heat and cook to 250° F on a candy thermometer. Mixture will bubble up in pan, so watch to keep from boiling over.

2. Pour slowly onto hot popcorn and mix until well-coated. Let stand 5 minutes or until mixture can easily be formed into balls.

3. Butter hands and form into 3-inch balls.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.