Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Maryellen's Rum Balls and a Giveaway Hosted by Pippaloo!

A no bake classic from the mid century!

I'm kicking off the holiday season with a very exciting post, featuring rum balls two ways and a giveaway from one of my favorite doll crafters: Pippaloo! 

Pippaloo makes extremely detailed, perfectly sized custom doll food. After taking a hiatus for a good long while, her shop is back open on Artfire. Her monthly releases are announced on her blog several days in advance of appearing in her shop, and her December Menu should be available at 12:00 noon EST today! You should definitely head over there to check out her work. 

Now that she's back in action, she's planning on doing a spotlight on historical dishes our favorite historical dolls might have enjoyed. After some discussion of what might be best to offer as a giveaway, we chose rum balls as a fittingly quirky look at a popular recipe from the 1950's. The version created by Pippaloo is a perfect replica of the rum balls I made, making them a one of a kind addition to any holiday displays or play. 

Read on to find out more about these yummy treats as well as how to win a set of doll sized set yourself!

Recipes for rum balls first start appearing in cookbooks and newspapers in the 1940's, about a decade after the no-bake dessert became a popular choice for those looking for a homemade treat. They really boomed in popularity during the 1950's and 60's as a handy option for holiday parties, cookie swaps, and general gifting. They can be made far in advance and keep for a long time in the fridge or freezer, making them something you can easily make a large batch of and distribute over the course of the month. 

No one is 100% certain of their origins, but as the earliest recipes often include nuts, dried fruit, and obviously alcohol, it's thought their flavor profile was inspired by earlier days of holiday desserts that involved all three, such as traditional Christmas puddings. 

Rum balls are best classified as a candy, and while some recipes end up tasting very, very strongly of rum, others are a lot more subtle. Either way, a single rum ball isn't going to be enough to get you tipsy, although my historic recipe does definitely stray on the side of being a little too heavy with the rum. 

As well as a host of other problems, but we'll get to that in time. 

The recipe I used came from the article "Gift the Gift of Homemade Candy," from the Pittsburgh Courier in 1954. It was transcribed on The Food Timeline, one of my favorite online resources for historical recipes. I was excited to give them a try because the ingredients and steps seemed pretty straight forward. 

Crush up 3 cups of finely crushed vanilla wafers, and add in 1/2 of a cup of rum, 1 cup of walnuts, finely chopped, along with a 15 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk. Mix it all together and refrigerate for about one hour. Easy enough, right?

Not so much. 

After an hour, my mixture had definitely thickened, but it was still way too soupy to roll into a ball. Leaving it in longer didn't help.

I actually ended up making two batches of this recipe to see if I had done something wrong the first time, and my result was the same both times. What saved the dish was adding in a ton of cocoa powder and a little powdered sugar, which got the mixture into a much more fudge-like texture. Refrigerating that for an hour or so got a thicker batter that held its shape when it was rolled into balls.

Form balls with the batter and roll in powdered sugar. The original recipe said to shape them by the teaspoonful, but I made mine a fair bit bigger and was very generous with the powdered sugar. These should be stored in the fridge or freezer when you're not eating them, because they still get a little melty - or at least droopy - if they're left at room temperature. Maybe these would present a challenge being served at a Larkin family Christmas in Florida.

Taste wise, they were okay, but extremely sweet and extremely rummy. When I was Maryellen's age, I really hated anything that had the bitter taste of alcohol, so I feel like even though these treats are theoretically age appropriate, I'm not sure how kid friendly they actually are. Even for adults, the flavor profile might be a little much. 

Considering I had to make two batches of this authentic 1950's recipe to get a working product, and I had to heavily alter it to make it work, I don't think I can really recommend this recipe in good conscience either, unless you're willing to experiment. Of course, given this is a no bake recipe, there is a little more room to maneuver here than with a cookie or cake recipe, and people can and do experiment with their rum balls quite a bit. There are a ton of varied recipe for these treats out there, so I'd definitely encourage checking those out or putting your own spin on this one rather than following it to the T. 

Speaking of which, remember how I said this was rum balls two ways?

It turns out my wife's family has their own recipe for rum balls and makes them every Christmas. They're my mother in law's recipe, and it involves a lot of eyeballing and working by sight and touch rather than a specific recipe. 

Much like the 1954 American recipe I made, they require crushing up about a sleeve of plain sweet biscuits, but there are no nuts. Instead, unsweetened flaked coconut and cocoa powder get added to the biscuits along with a 15 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and a splash of rum. Mix it all together until the mixture is stiff, adding in some extra cocoa powder or coconut as needed to keep it firm. This batter doesn't need to be refrigerated before being rolled out.

The balls are rolled out and rolled in more unsweetened coconut. Just like the first recipe, these should be chilled in the freezer before and after being served.

While the American version I made tasted like rum and that's it, these rum balls are a really nice mix of rum, coconut, and chocolate, with the cocoa powder definitely being the most dominant flavor. Besides being easier to make and being overall a lot more tasty, I'm happy to let Jess take point on making the rum balls for our future holiday obligations. 

An interesting note: most British recipes for rum balls features coconut, while most American recipes don't.

But if you're not interested in spending extra time in the kitchen testing different recipes for rum balls, here's your chance to win a doll sized version!

Pippaloo has created a set of ten rum balls, perfectly replicating the 1954 recipe to be realistically sized and textured. I've been lucky enough to buy a couple items from her past releases, and I'm always blown away by how real all the food looks. These seriously look like miniatures of the rum balls I still have in my freezer.

To enter for a chance to win, comment below, send me an email, or reply to my Instagram post about the contest with your favorite holiday treat and why it's stuck around year after year. After the giveaway ends on December 15th, I'll randomly select a winner and contact them for their shipping information. This will be passed along to Pippaloo and she'll send it your way directly! 

Here's the official giveaway rules: 

- One winner will win a set of doll sized rum balls created by Pippaloo 
- Must be 18 years or older to enter. If you're under the age of 18, please have an adult enter for you. 
- Entrants must provide an email address or an Instagram account so I can contact them for shipping information. 
- Entrants can enter the giveaway up to three times using the methods stated below. 
- The winner will be randomly selected. 
- The giveaway ends at midnight on December 15. 
- The winner will be contacted within 24 hours via email. If I do not hear back from the winner by December 20, 2018, a new winner will be selected from the remaining applicants using If, for whatever reason, you no longer want the rum ball set and wish to forfeit your entry, a second winner will be chosen from the remaining entrants using 

1. Leave a comment below saying you'd like to enter, what your favorite holiday treat is, and what email address would be best to contact you with 
2. Send me an email with your favorite treat to 
3. Reply to my Instagram post announcing the giveaway with your favorite holiday recipe. 

Pippaloo has a lot of really great ideas for future spotlights, so definitely keep an eye on her blog and shop for future releases. You won't be disappointed! 

And good luck! I can't wait to hear about your favorite traditions!

Although favorite holiday fails would also be a fun subject for any entries, considering how hard the first recipe was to get into shape!


  1. My favorite holiday treat is gingerbread cookies! I'd like to enter. Thank you for this opportunity!

  2. My favorite holiday *food* is Olivier salad, with red chile tamales as a runner up. I'm not really into sweets, but if pressed, my in laws make these "cookies" that are basically crunchy chow mein noodles coated in melted butterscotch and made into little "haystacks." (inky marina at g mail dot com)

  3. My favorite Christmas treat and recipe is for buttertarts. (linaka54 at Shaw dot ca)

  4. Chocolate Krinkles. Hands down. Please enter me for the treats! (chrissy dot mdc at g mail dot com)

  5. Molasses cookies, like my grandmother used to make. pumpkin hill studios at msn dot com please enter me for the treats!

  6. I love the peanut chocolate clusters my grandma makes! Jensloan at g mail

  7. Shortbread cookies are the best! blitzhysteria at gmail