Not to be a Scrooge, but I always found the holiday festivities to be one big confectionary letdown.
That is until I had a rum ball.
No fruit cake or Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookie ever put a smile on my face the way popping a coconut-coated orb of chocolate, nuts and Nilla wafers can. And the rum, don't forget the dark rum. Zi-ing.
There's something totally uplifting - no, it's not the alcohol! - about the rum ball. When my wife Izabela and I served them at our holiday dessert parties, we would joke that we should make Polynesian-style chicken wings, put on a Martin Denny record and set the perfectly arrayed trays of rum balls on the coffee table in our gleaming new suburban home.
They just feel as if they're right out of the "Tiki" fad of the 1950s and '60s. But besides the rum, which was all the rage in the cocktail culture of the '50s, there is really nothing exotic about this easy to make sweet.
It only looks like a truffle. There's no snooty ganaches to be made. No 70 percent cacao premium chocolate to be purchased - that's right, go right ahead and use the cheap bag of chips.
The great thing about this dessert is that even someone as inexperienced as I am can easily follow the recipe. You don't need any special equipment - a food processor helps - and there are no tricky techniques involved.
Because the recipe calls for combining the chocolate with other ingredients before melting there is no need for a double boiler. Just be sure to stir continuously until the mixture is melted completely to avoid burning.
When adding the eggs, whisk them into the melted chocolate slowly, otherwise they can congeal and produce an unappealing texture.
The cookies must be ground as finely as possible. Smashing them in a plastic bag works, but a food processor or cheese grater is best. To get an even crumb size, sift them crumbs through a strainer, discarding or crushing any large pieces.
The mixture gets soft fast, so it is best to refrigerate it for several hours - overnight is the best - before rolling the balls.
The rolling is a messy and delicate affair. To shape the balls, gently roll the chocolate between your palms. Don't overdo it or the chocolate will become too soft to work into the shape.
The rum balls are excellent rolled in coconut, but also try them with chopped nuts or sprinkle.
Start to Finish: 7 hours (40 minutes active)
Makes 60 rum balls
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs, beaten
Pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs (about 6 ounces of cookies ground in a food processor)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup dark rum
1 1/2 cups unsweetened, grated coconut
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter, sugar and chocolate chips. Stir constantly until fully melted and smooth. Slowly whisk in the eggs until fully incorporated.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in salt, cookie crumbs, walnuts and rum. Allow the pan to cool, then cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the chocolate mixture. Chill for 6 hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to make the rum balls, place the coconut in a medium mixing bowl. Scoop out 1/2 teaspoon of the chocolate mixture and quickly roll between the palms of your hands to form a ball.
Toss the rum ball in the coconut to coat, then place on waxed paper. Repeat with remaining ingredients, refrigerating the balls in batches as you proceed. The rum balls should be stored in the refrigerator.
Bring the rum balls to room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.
Howie Rumberg can be e-mailed at hrumberg(at)ap.org.