In the days after Thanksgiving, I launch the holiday baking season with two recipes: my grandmother’s Vanilla Bean Cookies, which I shared in this column last year, and Chocolate Rum Balls. Both contain ingredients – whole vanilla beans and rum, respectively – that infuse their flavor into the cookies the longer they sit. If I bake them shortly after Thanksgiving, they reach their prime by the December holidays.
Both cookies have a long history in my family. I still have Grandma Tiny’s handwritten recipe cards in my kitchen and have stuck to her rendition of Vanilla Bean Cookies. However, the other recipe has evolved with each generation. My grandmother’s Walnut Brandy Balls recipe had become Chocolate Rum Balls by the time my mom took over their creation: the chocolate was never skipped, but the nuts could vary from walnuts to pecans.
When I started making the recipe for the family each year, I replaced two of the other original elements. I swapped in honey for corn syrup and homemade vanilla wafer cookies for store-bought ones. My most recent recommendation for these cookies is to choose an organic, tapioca-based powdered sugar, which improves the finished taste and texture, over a sugar that relies on cornstarch as an anticaking agent.
Chocolate Rum Balls
Makes about 50 cookies
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup light or dark rum
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Gradually mix in the flour and salt.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the soft dough out thinly, a quarter of it at a time, and then use a table knife or bench scraper to cut it into several rectangles. Place these close together on two buttered baking sheets.
Bake at 400°F for about seven minutes, until golden on the edges. Cool the wafers completely and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Break the wafers into manageable pieces, and then use a food processor to crush them, in batches as needed, until they form fine crumbs; you should have about 2-1/2 cups. Chop the nuts almost as finely, stopping just before they start to clump together.
In a large bowl, stir together the crumbs, nuts, cocoa and 1 cup of powdered sugar. Stir in the honey and rum until the dough is well blended and slightly sticky. Shape it into small balls about the size of a walnut.
Roll each ball in the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, using more if needed to ensure a thorough coating. In a wide container with a tight-fitting lid, place the cookies in layers separated by waxed or parchment paper. Set the container in a cool place for at least two weeks before eating.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.