Pumpkin Popcorn Balls for A Little Pumpkin

Dear Jolene,

Can you believe it’s already been two years since you were born?! I really don’t know why I’m writing you a letter since you are only two and haven’t learned to read yet, but I can’t just drop by for a visit because I live three states south of where you live.  It’s sort of a pain we can’t see each other more often, but it is what it is.

I was really happy to hear you liked the books you got for your birthday gift.  Do you have a favorite book yet?  I don’t remember my favorite book from when I was two years old, but my favorite book when I was a kid was The Pain and The Great One by Judy Blume.   I bet you will like it too since you are an older sister to a little brother.

What else did you get for your birthday? Someday when you are older, you should ask for a real live pony.  Your mommy wanted a pony when she was little. She never got one, so I bet she would be happy to get one for you.

I made some popcorn balls for you as a virtual birthday treat. The invitation to your birthday party had a pumpkin on it, so I thought you might like to see popcorn balls that look like pumpkins.

You can make these pumpkin popcorn balls with your mommy and daddy.  In fact, the last time I made popcorn balls before I made these, your daddy helped. It was two years ago at Christmas, and he was working near Papaw and Mamaw’s house.  We all made red and green popcorn balls before you and your mommy got there.  It wasn’t a lot of fun because the popcorn was held together by syrup heated to the soft ball stage, and boy, that syrup was hot!

It’s a lot easier to make these popcorn balls than it was those Christmas popcorn balls.  These use melted marshmallows instead of hot syrup to hold the popcorn together.  The pumpkin popcorn balls are really, really sticky to put together, but its nothing a good coat of non-stick cooking spray can’t handle. Just be sure to ask your mommy or daddy to help you because little girls should not use the kitchen unattended. Remember the last time you wandered into the kitchen alone?  Your little brother ended up wearing a colander on his head!

After you form the popcorn and melted marshmallow mixture into balls, you can decorate them with Tootsie Rolls and green jelly candies. I even made a jack-o-lantern face by cutting and rolling pieces of a Tootsie Roll, but you could use chocolate chips instead if you have them. (I used all of mine when I made your mom’s virtual birthday treat, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies).

Now, I know you are not always a little pumpkin.  But even when you are ornery, you are the apple of  a lot of eyes.  I  tried to make popcorn balls that looked like apples too, but a funny thing happened when I added the strawberry Jello to the marshmallows.  The mixture turned pink instead of red.  Can you believe that?

I was really disappointed at first, but then I remembered you got a pink pumpkin when you were born.  I  figured that meant I could make pink pumpkin popcorn balls too!


Well, I guess that’s all for now.  I hope you have a happy birthday today, and many, many more.


Aunt LeAndra

 Photo Credit – Emily B.

Fall Pumpkin Balls
Serves: 12
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 6 cups (1 bag) mini-marshmallows
  • 1 - 3 ounce package orange Jell-o
  • 12 cups popped popcorn
  • optional: 1 cup peanuts
  1. Place the butter and marshmallows in a large, microwave-safe bowl.
  2. Microwave the butter and the marshmallows for approximately 45-60 seconds or until the marshmallows are puffed.
  3. Stir in the orange Jell-o powder.
  4. Pour the marshmallow mixture over the popcorn and the peanuts. Stir quickly to coat.
  5. Spray non-stick cooking spray on hands, and shape the marshmallow-popcorn mixture into balls.
  6. Decorate with Tootsie Rolls and green jellies.
This recipe should make 12 tennis-ball sized popcorn balls. I cannot stress enough the importance of well greased hands when forming the popcorn balls. Licorice and chocolate chips are also good items for decorating the pumpkins.

Mississippi Mud Cupcakes

At any one time, I typically have a handful of a recipe ideas for the blog, but I often have no idea what I am going to write about in relation to those recipes until I sit down at my computer.  Yesterday was a bit different.  As I was driving home from work, I was thinking of what to post on the last day of September.

I decided Dirty 30 might be a catchy title, but what food item could I make to match?  Dirt Cake came to mind, but I just wasn’t that into it.  My mind wandered to seeing something about National Mud Pack day on the calendar.  What could I bake that has to do with mud…ah ha, a Mississipi Mud dessert.

I had been driving with the radio off, simply enjoying the hum of the tires on the road and the air whipping across the open windows.  Close to home and after I had decided on a Dirty 30 Misissppi Mud theme, I flipped on the radio.

“Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me”

I kid you not, the Doobie Brothers’ Old Black Water was playing when I turned on the radio.  I smiled.  Have I mentioned how much I love coincidences?  So off to work I went at a Mississippi mud cake.  I followed a Paula Deen recipe to a tee, and I ended up Mississippi mud hole cupcakes.

What went wrong?  The recipe called for the cake to be baked in a 9 x 13 pan.  I know you can’t bake a recipe that calls for a tube pan as cupcakes, but does the pan really matter for rectangular cakes and cupcakes?

I didn’t overmix the batter to kill the baking soda action, and I didn’t dilly-dally when moving the batter from the mixing bowl to the cupcake liners to the oven.  Sounds counter-intuitive, but could I have used too much of a leavening agent?  I read Shriley Corriher’s Bake Wise back in June, but clearly, it didn’t sink in (pun intended).

I smack talked September a bit, grabbed a DogFish Punkin, and got back to work.  I consulted my Great Grandmother’s red chocolate (red velvet) cupcake recipe, and with a little tweaking, I ended up with pretty mud puffs.

While the second round of cupcakes were baking, I sampled Paula’s cupcakes.  They may have looked ugly, but they tasted delicious.  I chopped one up to use as sprinkles on the pretty cupcakes, and I plan to use the rest in cake balls.

My cakes were delicious as well.  I would call them awesome, but they were just a teeny-tiny bit on the dry side.  I do believe this was more an issue with overbaking than with the recipe itself.  And with marshmallow fluff as a topping, I couldn’t taste a hint of dryness in the cake.

At the end of last month, I wrote about how I wanted to get better at food styling so I could take better pictures.  This month I have been thinking a lot about about how to step it up in the icing and frosting department.  I wouldn’t call a dollop of marshmallow fluff stepping it up, but at least it was different than the confectioners’ sugar buttercream I have been using on a regular basis.

I am so happy I chose the marshmallow fluff because they made the cupcakes taste like those Hostess cupcakes with the curly white ribbon of icing across the tops.  The fluff spreads over the cupcake within a few minutes, so a dollop in the center is more than plenty.  If you place fluff over the entire surface of the cupcake, it will run over the sides.

With that, I’m putting September to bed and looking forward to my favorite month of the year: October.

Well, I built me a raft and she’s ready for floatin’
Ol’ Mississippi, she’s calling my name 
Catfish are jumpin’
That paddle wheel thumpin’
Black water keeps rollin’ on past just the same
Old black water, keep on rollin’
Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me
-The Doobie Brothers


Mississippi Mud Cupcakes
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 12
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in ½ cup hot water
  • 1 - 7 ounce jar of marshmallow creme
  1. Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  3. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  4. Slowly pour in the baking soda solution.
  5. Add the flour mixture and mix until well combined.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out with just a crumb or two.
  7. When the cupcakes have cooled, top with the marshmallow creme.

Banana, Peanut Butter, and Marshmallow Cupcakes

Over the weekend, I worked on my creation for the Willow Bird Baking Cupcake Challenge.  The requirements: a cake, a filling and a frosting.

I considered key lime, graham cracker and raspberry, but I settled on banana, peanut butter and marshmallow.  The latter reminded me of the banana boats (a sliced banana topped with peanut butter and mayonnaise) my mom used to make as a before-dinner snack.  Of course instead of mayonnaise, I used marshmallow.

Though a variety of recipes for banana cake can be found across the internet, I’m pretty much going it alone after three months of nearly non-stop baking.  You may have noticed that most of my (cup)cake recipes contain a few base items: one cup of flour to 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and (unsalted) butter, sugar and vanilla.  After that, it’s a matter of tweaking the flavors and the textures.  I am by no means saying this is the best base recipe out there, but it is what works for me right now.

The banana cupcakes were just sweet enough, and the banana flavor really came through.  The plain yogurt gave the cake a bit of a tangy taste, but I liked how it balanced the sweet of the peanut butter filling and marshmallow icing.

After baking the first batch, I decided to throw in some cocoa powder for the remaining cupcakes because chocolate really does make everything better. While I liked these cupcakes, the chocolate seemed to overpower the banana flavor.  On the other hand, it really brought out the peanut butter and marshmallow flavors.

The filling is  up for debate.  My cupcakes did not contain a lot of filling because I used a filling tip to puncture and then pipe filling into my cupcakes. Other cupcake bakers prefer to use the cone method where a cone is cut from the cake, filling is placed in the resulting cavity, and then the top of the cone is placed back onto the cupcake.

It does strike me as somewhat odd that I prefer more cake than filling given that my donut of choice is a filled stick (long john), and I used to love that cinnamon-flavored gum with the syrupy filling (I don’t remember the brand name of that gum, but they were square pieces that looked almost like Hall’s cough drops).  My point is, I like filling, but I guess I like cake better.

To create the frosting, feel free to use marshmallow fluff in place of melted marshmallows.  I just happened to have marshmallows on hand so I thought it silly to buy fluff.

A good thing about this recipe is that is allows for variations.  You can certainly fill the cupcakes with marshmallow and frost with peanut butter buttercream. However you decide to make your cupcakes, enjoy!


Banana Cupcake with Peanut Butter and Marshmallows Buttercream
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 20
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Peanut Butter Filling
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Marshmallow Frosting
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and the sugars together.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Continue to mix on medium speed while adding the bananas, yogurt and vanilla extract.
  5. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and pour batter into liners until approximately ¾ full.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  7. While the cupcakes cool, make the peanut butter filling. Cream the butter and slowly add the confectioners’ sugar.
  8. Add the peanut butter, milk and vanilla, and beat at high speed two to three minutes until the filling is light and smooth.
  9. Fill a decorating bag fitted with tip 230 with the filling.
  10. Gently press tip into the top of the cupcake and move downward to the bottom of the paper liner. Squeeze the bag while moving tip back toward the top of the cupcake to fill.
  11. For the frosting, melt the marshmallows over low heat. When the marshmallows have puffed to about twice their size, add in the milk and stir until fully melted and smooth.
  12. Cream the butter and slowly add the confectioners’ sugar.
  13. Add the melted marshmallows and vanilla and beat at high speed two to three minutes until the filling is light and smooth.
  14. Spoon the icing into a decorating bag fitted with a decorating tip 1M.
  15. Gently pipe the icing onto each cupcake by starting at the outermost edge and forming a circle inwards towards the center.
  16. If desired, garnish with a sprinkle of cocoa powder or sliced bananas.
To make chocolate-banana cupcakes, add ¼ cup cocoa powder to the cupcake powder.