Rum Balls: The Perfect Boozy Bringalong
I love the whole holiday season. There are lots of people who think this is profoundly uncool. Ten years ago, I would have agreed. Time, and the wisdom that comes with time, has taught me that the Season of Giving is what you make it, just like everything else in life.
I’m not a lunatic; I know that scheduling everything you want to accomplish and enjoy is harder in December. The stakes feel higher when I’m swimming in an ocean of other people’s expectations and anxieties. Then I remember: they are getting tossed about in the waves. I am swimming.
When we talk about the seasons in Wisconsin, we are usually referring to the weather, but this season-within-a-season is different. We suspend our normal lives for a few weeks in winter when everything changes. We get out of ourselves and listen carefully to those closest to us, as we try to crack the code of the Perfect Gift. Then we plot and scheme to keep it a secret, so we can spring delight on our loved ones and watch their faces glow.
One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the get-togethers with the people I love best. There, in that room, food, drinks, music and decor become more than the sum of their parts. These hospitable touches perform an alchemy that transmutes the elements into memories, and I look around the room and think to myself, “These are the good times.”
But I’m busy, just like you. I need hacks and workarounds to make these moments happen, and this year, my trade secret is going to be the Rum Ball. This sweet and savory classic is a boozy multitasker with probable German roots dating back to the 1850s. Rumkugeln, they are called. Wisconsin has deep German roots, so we are well familiar with German drinking culture; it seems inevitable that alcohol would have made its way into a German dessert. About a hundred years later, rum balls were very popular in America, and their time has come again.
There are lots of good reasons to love them. Perhaps the most obvious reason is, there’s rum in them. And chocolate. Barrel-aged rum and chocolate are incredibly delicious together. Like most of my favorite things, this confection is not for children. Also, they’re easy—you don’t even bake them. You need about fifteen minutes of stovetop time to melt the chocolate. They keep for weeks in your freezer. A small, discreet package of rum balls slipped into the hand of your host when you walk in the door makes you look like a holiday professional.
There are probably as many ways to make rumkugeln as there are German grandmothers, but I’ve rounded up a couple of variations, with a little help from our friends at Great Northern Distilling. Their Opportunity Rum makes delicious rum balls, and it gives you the warm glow you can only get from supporting local business.
The first recipe is in the traditional style. If you are like the idea of chocolate with hazelnuts and rum, this is for you. If there are nut allergies in your circle of friends, or you prefer a slightly less sweet, more savory flavor profile, the second recipe will likely be your preference. Refrigerate them in an airtight container, separating the layers with parchment paper, for up to a month.
I am looking forward to making more of these rum balls. My sisters and I will get together some afternoon early in December. We’ll make traditional rumkugeln, and probably make a few rum old fashioneds disappear. There, in the warm glow of moment, we’ll sit around the kitchen table, shaping these treats. I will look around and think to myself: these surely are the good times.