So many of my memories are intertwined with food, such that they can’t be separated: my mum’s poppy seed cake and dinner parties, my dad’s fish and chips on the weekend, a chocolate cherry coconut tart the first time I stayed out at night drinking coffee with friends in high school (there was no actual coffee – not for another seven or so years – but that tart tasted intensely of freedom).
Rum balls also pop up in my childhood memories. I liked them the first time I tried them, a fact that slightly horrified my mother (and led me to believe that I had a lifetime of alcoholism in front of me).
But they’re not the kind of thing I’ve been able to find in Sydney for years. A couple of months ago my housemate baked a big batch of red velvet cakes. We couldn’t get through them fast enough so when they’d become too dry to eat, I looked for a recipe for rum balls. Despite being an Australian classic, recipes are hard to find: it seems they belong in bakeries in sleepy country towns where rock cakes, finger buns and peppermint slices are easy to come by. Nevertheless, I eventually found a recipe here.
It’s at this point you’ll think that I’ve gone completely mad (or had too much to drink?) because the recipe is clearly lacking in rum. As I went to make these the first time, I realised I had only brandy, no rum. I went with it, and I have to say, I’m glad I did. The brandy hints at the heady booziness of a well-soaked fruit cake, while moist chocolate takes centre stage.
Rum (or brandy) balls
1 1/2 c cake crumbs (see note below)
1/4 c icing sugar mixture, sifted
1/2 c almond meal
2 tbsp brandy
75 g chocolate, melted (I’ve used both milk and dark)
milk, as required
1/3 c icing sugar mixture, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp butter
30 g chocolate, chopped
2 tsp brandy
milk or hot water, if needed
To make the cake mixture
1. In a bowl mix together cake crumbs, icing sugar and ground almonds. Pour in the brandy and stir through.
2. Add the melted chocolate to the cake mixture and stir through. I found that my mixture came together well at this point and was moist enough to hold together. If it is still looking dry, add milk, starting with 1 tbsp and going from there. The mixture should be wet, rather than moist, and should all hang together in one ball.
3. Roll heaped tbsp of mixture into balls and place on a baking tray or plate lined with baking paper. Put in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.
To make the icing
4. Once the balls have been in the fridge for a couple of hours, start the icing. Melt the butter and chocolate together (I find the microwave is the easiest way to do this). When it is melted, stir to combine.
5. Add the icing sugar and then the brandy. Add just enough hot water or milk to make the icing the thickness of pure cream. Dip the balls into the icing one at a time and return to the same tray. Sift over some more icing sugar (or cocoa powder) and return to the fridge to set for a further two hours before eating.
- Store in a airtight container in the fridge. Makes approximately two dozen.
- I’ve made this cake using red velvet and butter cake crumbs. I imagine a chocolate butter cake would be fine too (amazing even!). Steer clear of anything too moist – a flourless chocolate cake or mud cake, for example.