When most people smell rum, they probably think of tropical drinks. You know, the ones with those tiny umbrellas? Well, when I catch a whiff of rum I think of Christmas at my Nana and Papa's house. Yes, the deliciously strong smell of alcohol synonymous with pirates (yo-ho-ho, anyone?) conjures up fond memories of my British grandparents.It's not as strange as it sounds. You see, my family, both immediate and extended, show love with food. For generations, we've been offering up goodies in times of great joy, terrible sadness and everything in between. My Nana and Papa were no different.

At Christmastime, they would get to work in the kitchen creating goodies like peanut brittle, mince pies and Christmas pudding. The standout for me, however, was the simple rum ball. Some people in our family love them, some don't. For those of us who do, the rum-laden treats are like gold.

Now, I know it seems early to start sharing favorite Christmas recipes, but stay with me. These goodies are best if made well in advance and kept in the refrigerator to... ahem... cure.

The best part of this rum ball recipe has to be that it only involves 5 ingredients: walnuts, vanilla wafers, honey, rum and cocoa.

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

We recently scored a huge bag of walnuts from my in-laws, which is awesome. Walnuts can be a bit pricey at the store, so we're always grateful when we can get them for the low, low price of a hug. :)

Let's break this down:

The walnuts and vanilla wafers act as the base for the "cake." This time around, I used my pathetic little dorm-sized food processor (a grown up food processor is definitely on my Christmas list this year), but I've also just chopped the walnuts and used a rolling pin to grind up the vanilla wafers in a plastic zip lock bag. As far as consistency goes, it's really up to you. I like processing everything to a fairly fine consistency (think cookie crumbs), but some would rather have large chunks of walnuts in their version of the recipe.

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

Once you've chopped everything, it's time to add the honey and rum. The honey acts as a sweetener (obviously) and helps bind everything together. The rum adds moisture and, of course, flavor.

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

Once you mix everything together, it's time to get to rolling. If you're like me, you're cool with just estimating the amount dough you need to make a nice golf ball-sized rum ball. I'm sure there are folks out there worried about each treat being the same size. You could probably use a melon baller or small scoop to ensure consistency, if you're interested.

After rolling comes the final touch: a coat of cocoa:

Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder
Recipe for traditional rum balls via Jennifer E. Snyder

When you're done, you'll be left with dozens of delicious holiday treats ready for the festivities!

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Holiday Rum Balls:

  • 3 cups crushed vanilla wafers
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup rum
  • Cocoa to coat

Mix first 4 ingredients well. Shape into balls and roll in cocoa. Keep in an air tight container in refrigerator.

If you're planning on giving these away for the holidays, you can easily double or triple the recipe. I also find that I end up adding a bit more honey and rum to this recipe at the end, so adjust according to your taste.

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The second best thing about this recipe is that there are substitutes for every ingredient. Prefer graham crackers to vanilla wafers? Go for it! Have an affinity for almonds? Use those instead of walnuts. White corn syrup can be used in place of honey to help keep it all together and, believe it or not, you can trade out the rum for brandy or sherry. Even the cocoa can be swapped out if you have Nestle's Quick on hand (in fact, some prefer it).

'Tis the season to work with what you've got, so it's no surprise just how many variations of this recipe exist. I say experiment and make them with whatever sounds good to you.

Me? I'm sticking with rum. :)

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Anyone else have fond holiday memories associated with alcohol-infused treats? Spill it, people. Link up in the comment section if you have a tasty recipe to share!


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