A guest post from my very talented friend, Alex Dionne, who has brought these rum balls to our last two holiday parties. Trust me, you want to make these. And hide a few to have with coffee the next morning…
Ah, rum balls.
You know, I didn’t grow up with rum balls. I barely grew up with any holiday baking tradition. My mother was Jewish and my step-father was a lapsed Catholic. We definitely had Christmas trees with presents underneath and an old Menorah on the mantle that we always forgot to light. And, it was Huntington Beach, Ca., so no snow or cozy hot chocolate moments by the fire. Many of my friends would often surf on Christmas day. Baking wasn’t a huge thing in our house.
So, cut to college, at UCSB. It was my last year, Christmas 1991. I lived with 3 women in a brown, ’70s condo complex in Goleta (which is Santa Barbara’s ugly step-sister). Next store to us lived these two cute surfer brothers and their roommate, a woman whose name totally escapes me. We were all students. I never could figure out their relationship, but from what I gathered, the two cute brothers treated this woman as their middle sister. She was always cooking and baking for them.
During that Christmas break, we were all around for various reasons. So we decided to make our own holiday dinner. My neighbor said she would bake a bunch of stuff, and make some rum balls. I don’t think I had ever seen a rum ball before, let alone tasted one. I asked her if she could show me how she made them. She of course let me watch as I sipped some rum-spiked egg nog. I think I thought rum balls would taste a lot like some horrible, alcohol-infused rock, with a fruit-cake-like consistency. But, as she assembled the ingredients, I saw that it was all pretty much yummy stuff.
As I watched and got tipsy, she smashed up a box of Nilla wafers (yes, that old-school cookie that’s still around!), in a bowl (you could also just use a food processor, but a little smashing is fun), chopped some walnuts (these can also go into the processor), and threw in the corn syrup, cocoa and rum, and started rolling out the little brown balls. When she was done, she put powdered sugar in a container, put the balls in, put the lid on and shook them up, and poured them into a bowl. In a matter of 15 minutes she was done. I was really amazed that there was absolutely no baking involved. And, then I tasted one. Excellent!! So moist, perfectly sweet, not too cloying, just the right amount of rum. I was hooked. I asked her to write down the recipe, which I promptly lost, but fortunately not before I told my best friend, who’s a wonderful cook. She wrote it down, and then later put it down in a cookbook for me (she was sick of my calling her every year for the recipe).
Sadly, I can’t remember the woman’s name whose recipe it is, but every year when I make them, I pour myself a little rum and toast her, wherever she is.
Here’s the unbelievably easy recipe, it makes about 20-25 or so balls, but I usually double it for parties:
1 box of Nilla wafers (original)
1 cup nuts, chopped, or food processed (pecans or walnuts usually)
2 T cocoa
2 T corn syrup
1/2 cup rum
about a cup or so of powdered sugar
Just mix up first five ingredients in a bowl. It’ll be slightly sticky, but really easy to work with. Take about a tablespoon or so for each ball. But, really it’s your preference as to how big you want them. When I’m done rolling them, I put them in some Tupperware with the powdered sugar and shake it up a bit. The only thing is, if you do the powdered sugar too early, it’ll soak in and lose it’s little “powdery” look. I usually wait until the last minute to do this step.
Enjoy. Happy Holidays!
Cheers, Alex Dionne