A Makeover for the Most Spirited Cookie on the Plate

There are plenty of ways to tweak a rum ball recipe. You could change up the nuts, swap out the sugar, add spices or cocoa, or use honey in place of corn syrup. You could drizzle in bourbon or brandy rather than rum. You could even nix the alcohol altogether, using orange juice instead (just reduce the sugar by a smidge).

One element must remain fairly constant, though: the cookie crumbs. Pulverized wafers cookies — usually vanilla and occasionally chocolate — are the standard, because their dry, crunchy texture allows them to absorb the maximum amount of rum.

But any dry cookie crumbs will work. And in this recipe, gingerbread crumbs add their rich, spicy complexity to the mix.

I got the idea during a deep foray into gingerbread-house making last winter. After the house was baked and assembled, and all the royal icing scrubbed off the counters and floor, I was left with a large heap of scraps that I nibbled on for a couple of weeks. I pulverized what remained into crumbs and stuck them in the freezer. I had more than two quarts, enough for several batches of rum balls and a few cheesecake crusts, in which gingerbread took the place of the usual graham crackers.

The rum balls, in particular, were a hit — heady with booze and gently spiced. I liked them so much that this year, even without plans to build a gingerbread house, I decided to make the rum balls anyway. I crushed up a package of gingersnaps in the food processor, and added the chopped pecans and the rum. Then I mixed in some grated fresh ginger to amp up the spice, and substituted maple syrup for the corn syrup to give everything a warmer, deeper taste.

They were very good eaten straight after rolling, but the cookies were even better after resting for a few days, which allowed the flavors to mellow.

As an experiment, I rolled half of the balls in confectioners’ sugar and half in granulated sugar. The cookies coated in confectioners’ sugar stayed moist, while the ones covered in granulated sugar developed a nice, crunchy crust.

As with all rum balls, the quality of the spirit makes a difference. I used an amber rum, which has a mellower flavor than white rum. But choose the one you like best. Imbued with your favorite spirit, these snappy little rum balls should make you very happy indeed.

Recipe: Gingerbread Rum Balls

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Melissa Clark has been a columnist for the Food section since 2007. She reports on food trends, creates recipes and appears in cooking videos linked to her column, A Good Appetite. She has also written dozens of cookbooks. @MelissaClark Facebook

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