Sweet and Spicy Pepitas Popcorn Balls

October 21, 2010

“Every once in a while, someone will mail me a single popcorn kernel that didn’t pop. I’ll get out a fresh kernel, tape it to a piece of paper and mail it back to them.” – Orville Redenbacher.

If you believe Nebraskan myth, popcorn balls just happened naturally. On a hot and rainy summer day, legend has it that two Nebraska fields were experiencing different extremes in weather. In a field where sugar cane was growing, the crop was being treated to a deluge of warm rain. Next door, a corn field was in direct sunlight being scorched by the summer sun. The rain washed the sugar cane downhill toward the neighboring cornfield, where the heat was so blistering that the corn was popping off the stalks! The syrupy sugar cane washed over the exploding corn kernels, rolling it into balls as it went. But then, grasshoppers ate all of the balls, so the farmers were forced to try to recreate the phenomenon– making the snack we know now. [Source: Hayley Wells]

Obviously, this tale seems far fetched but I’m too busy munching away on popcorn balls to give it any further thought! Popcorn balls are delicious change from the ordinary popcorn you would normally eat during a movie. The pepitas add a bonus crunch while the cayenne adds a surprise kick!

What are pepitas? 
Pepitas are pumpkin seeds. Typically rather flat and asymmetrically oval, and light green in color. Marinated and roasted, they are an autumn seasonal favorite. I can’t get enough of these! I found myself munching away more than I put in the popcorn balls.


Sweet and Spicy Pepitas Popcorn Balls

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes


  • 3 (3.5-ounce) bags natural microwave popcorn
  • 2 cups pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for forming
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper


  1. Pop the popcorn according to package instructions. While hot, carefully open package and dump into a large bowl.
  2. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until browned and popping, tossing and stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. (Do this in batches, if needed.)
  3. Add to the popcorn.


  1. Warm the cream over low heat and keep warm while you cook the sugar.
  2. Put the sugar and corn syrup in a deep, heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Stop stirring, raise heat to medium-high, and simmer until the sugar reaches the hard crack stage, or 305 degrees F on a thermometer, about 7 minutes.
  4. Whisk the butter and salt into the sugar mixture.
  5. Gradually pour in the cream and vanilla taking care since the mixture will bubble up.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar reaches soft ball stage, 240 degrees F on the thermometer, about 5 minutes more.
  7. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the cinnamon and cayenne.
  8. Cool for about a minute.
  9. Pour caramel over the popcorn and stir to evenly coat.
  10. When the popcorn is cool enough to handle, coat your hands with some butter and shape into 4-inch balls.
  11. Wrap in waxed paper and tie with a string, if desired.
  12. Serve or store covered at room temperature for up to a week.

Tip: Do not skip the step on coating your hands with butter. The caramel makes the popcorn super sticky to the point where they stick to your hands more so than sticking together as a popcorn ball. I put a drizzle of milk chocolate over the popcorn balls to make them more gourmet. The “taste of koko” signature drizzle! 🙂


Jane Ko is the Austin blogger behind A Taste of Koko, Austin's top food and travel blog featuring the hottest restaurants and weekend getaways. Jane has been a speaker at South by Southwest (SXSW), Texas Conference for Women, BlogHer, and more on entrepreneurship and social media. She lives in Austin Texas with her dog and cat.


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