Family Recipe Rum Balls

Every year it’s the same. November begins and I think that maybe it’s time to start my Christmas shopping, but I don’t. Suddenly I am celebrating Thanksgiving, then December arrives with its daylight quickly dimming and the days ticking away like seconds on a stopwatch. Now here we are: one week until Christmas and I’ve barely started my Christmas shopping. Hello, my name is Erin and I am a procrastinator.


Let’s forget the Christmas presents and stressful shopping that goes along with it. You know what I want for Christmas? I want to cozy up on a couch with my sisters and cousins and watch the old movies we used to make when we were too young to be embarrassed by ourselves. I want to bake gingerbread men and women with my mom and make funny scenes using them as the characters. I want to bite into homemade checkerboard cookies, eating each square separately, letting the buttery shards melt on my tongue. I want to sing Christmas songs around the piano, with my Dad playing the keys as we all belt out the songs. I want to wear fleece pants and slippers and curl up with a good book and a good cat (preferably one that doesn’t vomit regularly or wake me up in the middle of the night by pulling threads out of the nice curtains with her claws.) I want to watch White Christmas and have my sisters do a reprise performance of the “Sister, Sister” song from my wedding.

I am very lucky and grateful for the many wonderful people and comforts in my life. I would much rather have the simple gifts of time with people I love and time for the things that I love doing than any tangible presents that could be bought. If you haven’t bought me anything yet, don’t. Next year (maybe starting in October) I’m going to plan to do Christmas a little differently.

While I won’t be spending Christmas with my sisters and parents, I will still do many things on the aforementioned list. I will bake cookies, I will read books (good cat or not!), and I will leap around my living room while listening to Christmas songs. And since all of this list involves doing good for myself, I am also going to do good for others, including some volunteering and finding a way to help in Syria by donating to a reputable charity, as I am horrified by the news I see coming out of there.

I am also planning on taking some of my freshly baked cookies to the neighbors (checkerboards on the list!) I have our family’s favorite rum balls ready to add to the cookie platter. My mom always made these rum balls by the dozens for our family when I was growing up. I remember we ate them happily as kids, despite their strong rum-y taste (or perhaps because of it!). I am surely giving this recipe too late as the balls are best made ahead of time so that they can cure and really absorb the flavor of the rum, but perhaps you can make them now and save them for a New Year’s party. Mine have been ripening for about two weeks now, but I just haven’t gotten the chance to write about them yet!

Admittedly I have altered the recipe a little bit. I wavered between making the vanilla wafers from scratch and just buying them, but in the end, I decided that it was highly unnecessary to make them, and it would ruin the authenticity of the family recipe. I did, however, substitute honey for the corn syrup as I simply don’t use the stuff enough to really want to buy it. I figure that good family recipes are like a game of telephone, anyway. With each person you pass it along to the message changes just a little bit.

May your Christmas be full of comfort, joy, love, and all the things intangible and tangible that your heart desires. And may it also contain some rum balls!


Rum Balls

adapted from our family recipe collection

1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup powdered sugar + more for rolling

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 1/2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon light corn syrup or honey

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1/4 cup rum (pick one you would like to drink)*

Start by crushing vanilla wafers in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or pulse in the food processor until they are crumbly but not too fine of crumbs. Measure out a cup of the crumbs. Combine all remaining ingredients with the wafer crumbs in a medium sized bowl and mix together. Add more honey or powdered sugar depending on the consistency. You want it to be a dough that will hold together when rolled into a ball, but not too dry as the wafer crumbs will soak up some of the rum as they sit. Scoop into even golf-ball sized (or smaller) balls and roll in more powdered sugar to coat. Let sit in a well sealed container for at least a few days and up to several weeks before serving.


*They wouldn’t be rum balls of course, but if you really don’t like rum, I imagine these would be splendid with any other alcohol you like. I would think a Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, or Kahlua would be especially good, or even a whiskey of your choice.




Post 97 – Christmas eats

You want to know something weird and cool? I have been obsessed with documenting my food way longer than this blog. Surprised? No, probably not. Upon visiting my sister in Ohio, she returned a journal of mine that had somehow gotten mixed up in her stuff. I flipped through it and found notes from a trip to the South that I took in high school, most of which consisted of the meals I ate as we traveled along. I guess some things haven’t changed…

I have eaten a lot of good food these past few weeks leading up to and during the holiday time. I enjoyed a wonderful time with my family eating and hanging out and having an overall good time and thought I’d share some meals with you. Here is the story of my stay in Ohio as told through food pictures.

Early Christmas dinner at my sister's

Early Christmas dinner at my sister’s


Rum punch made by Sam


Sweet potato salad



The master crescent maker


Family recipe from-scratch crescent rolls!

Delicious Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale with friends in Columbus

Delicious Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale with friends in Columbus


Lunch at Olive – an urban dive in downtown Dayton!


Falafel and sweet potato fries - yummy!

Falafel and sweet potato fries – yummy!

More cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast

More cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast


Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner – Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and cranberry sauce.


Christmas Blueberry Pie

Christmas Blueberry Pie

Gingerbread decorating creativity

Gingerbread decorating creativity


Hipster close-up

Hipster close-up: note skinny jeans, hipster glasses, and V-neck shirt.

Six-pack abs

Six-pack abs

Hope you had a Merry Christmas! I can’t believe it’s almost 2015!

Post 64 – Checkerboard cookies

I know I missed the cookie swaps…

and the Christmas parties…

and that it’s almost time for New Year’s resolutions, BUT I just had to make some checkerboard cookies (because I didn’t eat enough sugar over the holidays just like everyone else. Ha! Yeah right! Let’s see – marble cookies, homemade hot fudge, ice cream, pumpkin pie, spiced nuts, not to mention cookies brought over by the neighbors, treats at the family Christmas gathering, and freshly baked black and whites to take with us on the plane ride home! We did miss out on Top Pot doughnuts, but that was probably a blessing in disguise.)


We spent a lovely Christmas week in Seattle with my future in-laws. Sam’s extended family threw me a wonderful bridal shower that made me feel welcomed into the family and very loved. I am excited by all the wonderful gifts we received and have already started using some (new kitchen gadgets! <squeals of excitement>). We spent our week in Seattle relaxing, indulging, and taking for granted the pleasures of being in an updated and well-kept home where we didn’t have to wash dishes or scoop cat litter (Sam’s reading this and thinking: how often do YOU really scoop cat litter? Also – Seattle photo credits to Sam)

Christmas dinner prime rib roast

Christmas dinner prime rib roast



The week disappeared far too quickly, and though I do have (less than) a week left, I still have the feeling leftover from my college days that winter breaks should last a whole month. That leaves just about enough time to hibernate and to get used to not working and hanging around in your PJ’s all day.

Extra time at home also lends itself well to is kitchen adventures, hence, the checkerboard cookies. Cold outside and cozy in gives you all the more reason to turn on the oven and set your stove top a-blazin’ (as in the burners, don’t light your kitchen on fire).


In my case I made checkerboard cookies, which have become somewhat of an unofficial Christmas cookie tradition for me ever since I learned how to make them. As Maida Heatter says in her description in this wonderful gift from my godmother, these cookies require precision, not Antonin Careme-style talent and they are certainly very impressive looking. Many people have asked me if I assemble each cookie square by square. God, no.

They start like most cookies with a mother lode of butter and some sugar. Add some flour and then comes the hard part.



You divide the crumbly dough perfectly in half (very important). You could do this by weight or volume. (And if you’re a cookie dough eater, make sure you are nibbling on the name amount from each half!)

And you knead cocoa powder into one half of the dough.



Next you make perfect dough squares, flat and even and measured. And you cut them into strips.

Lay them out side by side, with egg wash as your glue (I used an egg yolk, but you can use a whole egg or even just an egg white for clear “glue”).

I like to use the knife as a spatula so the strips don't break while being transferred.

I like to use the knife as a spatula so the strips don’t break while being transferred.

The strips before being "glued" with egg wash.

The strips before being “glued” with egg wash.

and then layer the strips, being careful to alternate the colors for the checkerboard effect.

Wrap up and refrigerate until firm (at least a half hour) and then basically slice and bake. Ta-da! Checkerboards.



They look messy now, but just wait until they are ready for baking!

IMG_3977  Just like I told you – slice and bake. IMG_3980


Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown.


photo 2(6)

And wrap them up for someone you love.

photo 1(7)See, that wasn’t so hard.

Since tomorrow’s is New Year’s Day and we’re all going to be forgoing sugar and butter for an extra serving of vegetables, you only have one day to make these (sorry…) Either that or put them on your to-do list for next year’s Christmas cookies.

Happy baking and Happy (almost) New Year!

Checkerboard cookies

Adapted slightly from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. almond extract (don’t skip!)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

2+3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (I never sift… oops)

2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 egg, egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp. water, or egg white, lightly beaten (for egg wash)

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extracts and beat to mix well. On low speed gradually add the flour, scraping the bowl with a spatula a few times. The mixture will be crumbly. Turn it out onto a large board or smooth work surface and squeeze it with your hands and knead it until it holds together.

Divide the dough into two equal halves (by weight or volume – using dry measuring cups). Maida says it’s a scant 2.5 cups of dough, but I found that I had a full 2.5 cups when I made it most recently. Set one half aside. Add cocoa to the remaining half and knead to incorporate until smooth and evenly colored.

Shape each half into a flat square, using your hands or a rolling pin. Make sure to square off the corners. The square must be 6 x 6 inches and about 1/2 thick. The edges may be pressed into a straight line by pushing a ruler or a long, heavy knife against them or they may be trimmed.

Mark each square with a ruler and small knife into 1/2-inch increments on two opposite sides. Using a ruler if necessary cut the square into long strips, using the 1/2 inch markers as guides. Do this with both the plain and chocolate dough.

Prepare two pieces of plastic wrap. To assemble cookie logs, place one strip of chocolate dough on the plastic wrap, brush the top and one side with egg wash and lay a plain dough strip next to it on the egg-washed side. Repeat with the egg wash and two more strips of dough, colors alternating. Place four more strips of dough on top, using the egg wash in between layers, being sure to place a chocolate strip on top of a plain strip and vice versa. Form a third layer the same way. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside. Repeat with remaining strips of dough on second piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate both logs for at least 30 minutes or up to one day.

When ready to bake, remove logs and unwrap. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cut a thin slice off the ends of each log to make perfectly straight edges. Measure the bar into 1/4 inch lengths and slice. Place the cookies on the prepared sheets at least 1/2 inch apart and bake for 15-20 minutes until desired golden brown-ness. Cool and enjoy.