Hunger Management

Recipe: Great balls of rum

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 22, 2013

Even though the decorations are up on Orchard Road and in malls, and I am feeling a little panicked over our family Christmas meal (Which turkey to order? What side dishes to make? Do I have enough goose fat for roast potatoes?), I did not get into the Yuletide spirit until, oh, a week ago.

That was when I found myself elbow-deep in Operation Rum Ball. I had decided on a whim to make them for a party I was going to.

Standing in my kitchen and rolling those balls, all 68 of them, I thought about these old-fashioned treats and how festive they are this time of year.

They smell of Christmas and their booziness fits right in with the season, when people relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Of course, they are available year-round in heartland cake shops, which turn leftover chocolate cake into ping pong ball-sized rum balls covered with chocolate sprinkles.

I used to covet them because the alcohol made them seem very adult, although most were probably flavoured with rum essence.

Now that I am grown up and can drink legally, I make my own dainty but lethal rum balls.

Some people use crushed vanilla cookies and add chocolate and rum, or Weetabix cereal and add dates for sweetness.

I figured I would use the easiest option: chocolate cake. It soaks up the rum, chocolate and condensed milk easily and I like the lusciousness of the finished product.

The cake can be store-bought, made from scratch or a cake mix. Just about any cake can be used for the recipe, except for chiffon, which is too light; and brownies, which are too dense. There should also be no frosting or fillings.

If at a complete loss, just get a boxed cake mix and follow the instructions. The results will work perfectly well.

You are not limited to rum either. This is a good way to use up duty-free alcohol. Bourbon, cognac, whisky and coffee liqueur are good substitutes. Just be generous.

One thing that is non-negotiable, however, is the chocolate. It has to be dark, with at least 70 per cent cocoa solids. I used 87 per cent bars for the recipe.

Good chocolate just makes the balls taste better and less sweet.

If you are angsting over the amount of condensed milk called for in the recipe, use a light version. But you will need the milk to help bind the ingredients together.

Then, there is the coating.

While I like the retro look of chocolate sprinkles, other options include dessicated coconut, finely chopped almonds or pistachios, or no coating at all.

Other ways to jazz up the rum balls include adding raisins soaked in rum or boozy cherries, so guests get a little surprise.

Rolling rum balls can be messy, with sticky chocolate coating the hands and the countertop strewn with stray chocolate sprinkles, which skitter everywhere if you are not careful.

But I get a lot of satisfaction seeing people take a bite, their eyes widening because they realise there is a lot of rum and then taking another ball.

Yes, Christmas is here and it's just glorious.

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