These iconic treats are so easy to make, yet they look as if you have spent hours making them, which makes them an excellent candidate for gift giving or just simply indulging.
Unless you are an expert in candy-making, I recommend having a candy thermometer when making these, as having one generally guarantees a fool-proof candy making experience. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can certainly use the Cold Water Test to determine whether the cooked syrup has reached the appropriate stage. Simply cook until it reaches the "hard crack stage", or 300 degrees.
Prep your ingredients and supplies:
Make sure your popcorn is popped and set aside, ready to go in a large metal heat-safe bowl (you will be pouring the hot candy mixture into this bowl with the popcorn so make sure it is heat-safe!). Also, have your candy thermometer and a wooden spoon handy. Measure out your other ingredients and have those ready to go as well.
In a heavy 2 or 3 quart saucepan, at least 8″ deep, stir together the granulated sugar, light corn syrup, nondairy margarine, and apple cider until well mixed.
Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Continue to cook over medium heat and stir regularly with your wooden spoon until the candy thermometer reads 300 °F (or hard crack stage). This takes a while (about 30 minutes). Patience totally pays off with these. I recommend using a silicone brush to clean the sides of the pan as the candy cooks. Simply dip the brush in running water and "sweep" the sides of the saucepan clean every now and again to remove any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan. This ensures the candy cooks and solidifies properly.
A note of caution: Allow the candy to cook completely until it reaches hard crack stage. If you remove from the stove-top too quickly before it reaches this stage, the popcorn balls will not be crispy and crunchy, but instead very sticky and soft.
Once the mixture has reached 300 degrees, remove from the heat and quickly stir in the vanilla extract and vinegar using your wooden spoon. Pour the HOT candy mixture over popcorn and stir until evenly coated. Let cool for about 5-7 minutes. Carefully handle the popcorn to make sure you don’t burn your hands. Shape them into even balls and set on wire rack to cool completely.
Using double boiler or microwave, melt the chocolate until smooth. Place in piping bag with small tip and decorate the popcorn balls with the chocolate by drizzling onto popcorn balls.
Store in cool, dry place for up to 1 week.