No matter if you call them truffles, bonbons or just plain dessert balls, no-bake confections dipped in chocolate are some of Christmas’ sweetest treats. Literally.
Most sweet ball recipes call for lots of confectioners’ or powdered sugar, and some even add a can of sweetened condensed milk. Because of all that extra sugar, it’s hard to eat a whole platter of them, but that doesn’t mean Santa wouldn’t take a bite or two out of one anyway.
Growing up, we always made what we called bonbons: a combination of shredded coconut, nuts and sweetened condensed milk that we then spent what seemed like hours rolling into small balls and dipping in melted chocolate.
It was the only time of year we brought out the double boiler, and I can still smell the warm wax melting into the chocolate on the stove. (It was also the only way I ate coconut until I was, oh, 20.)
When searching around for regional variations on this holiday staple, I found out that they are sometimes called Martha Washingtons, an intriguing name whose origin certainly can’t date back to the first lady herself.
When we were in college, my sister introduced me to the Oreo cream ball, a recipe so easy I didn’t think it would work, but after watching her mix together two ingredients — a brick of cream cheese and a bag of crushed up Oreos — and roll them into truffles, this Show-Me gal was a believer.
(Speaking of truffles, I’ve now come to think of chocolate ganache rolled in cocoa as truffles, but the nomenclature for these kinds of treats can be hard to peg down, especially when you consider how these kinds of heartland recipes get passed from generation to generation and from cook to cook.)
Although the bonbons win for nostalgia and the Oreos win for ease, my new favorite balls are chocolate-covered peanut butter ones.
Called Buckeyes if you’re north of the Mason-Dixon line, I’m inclined to call them Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup knock-offs, but the name doesn’t really matter. They have a softer texture than most balls, even cake balls, which require baking a cake, letting it cool, mixing it with a can of frosting and then coating in chocolate.
I’m not opposed to making cake balls (we dedicated an entire article to them back in 2010: http://bit.ly/1bDIM0I), but these peanut butter balls, when made with salted butter and finely crushed pretzels, are just salty enough to help cut down on some of the sweetness that might turn off some people from the other dessert ball recipes.
Regardless of filling, it’s imperative that you keep the balls of filling cool so they don’t melt when you dip them in the warm chocolate. (If you set out to make several batches, you’ll be rotating trays of balls in and out of the fridge and freezer, so consider clearing out some extra space before you get started. Putting the coated balls in the fridge will help them set.)
Now, let’s talk about what you coat the balls in. Several baker friends don’t use shortening or paraffin to help smooth out regular old chocolate chips that have been melted in a double boiler or in the microwave. That’s a habit I can’t seem to break, but other cooks I’ve talked to swear by almond bark or melting candies, such as Wilton’s Candy Melts, that you’ll find at craft stores.
Although those melt easily and without any additional wax or shortening, I’m not a huge fan of the flavor. The green and red colored melting candies I used for the desserts photographed with this story were supposedly vanilla flavored, but they tasted more like cheap white chocolate, which I absolutely loathe.
No matter which kind of chocolate or faux chocolate you use, when you’re coating the balls, you’ll probably have to reheat the chocolate at least once, because it will cool down and harden as you work.
After you’ve coated the balls, you have a small window of time before the chocolate starts to set to decorate them with sprinkles, flaky sea salt or leftover ingredients, such as graham crackers, coconut or crushed pretzels.
With all this heating up and cooling down, dessert balls keep best if stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve them, but without any eggs or milk to worry about, it’s OK to stick them back in the fridge after they’ve been out of the cold for a few hours. (Yes, I know sweetened condensed milk is dairy, but with all that sugar, a natural preservative, it’s not a food safety hazard.)
The one ball I didn’t tackle for this story was a rum (or tequila or bourbon) ball, but I’d love to get a few spirited (or non-boozy) ball recipes from readers to share on my blog.
After all, these kinds of balls never seem to fall out of fashion, especially around the holidays, so we’ll get to revisit them soon enough.
Martha Washingtons (Coconut Bonbons)
We called these bonbons when I was a kid, but I kind of like the name Martha Washingtons, even though I have no idea where it came from.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 (14-oz.) bag sweetened flaked coconut
1 (14-oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (can substitute other nuts or dried fruits, if desired)
3 cups chocolate chips, melting chocolate or almond bark (plus more, as needed)
2 Tbsp. shortening or cooking paraffin/wax (if using chocolate chips; not needed if using melting chocolate or bark)
Mix together butter, coconut, sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar and pecans in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to overnight.
Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Using your hands or a small cookie scoop, roll small balls of the coconut mixture. (These are super sweet, so smaller balls are better. About the diameter of a nickel is good but no larger than a quarter.)
As you roll out the mixture, place batches of the balls you’ve already rolled in the refrigerator to keep them cool.
When it’s time to coat them in chocolate, melt the chocolate (and shortening/cooking wax if using) over a double boiler or in the microwave, heating for 30 seconds at a time and stirring frequently to help melt the chips or chunks.
Working in batches and with small forks, spoons or toothpicks, dip the balls in the chocolate and roll around to coat. Lift out of the chocolate, let excess chocolate drain off and place on a tray lined with wax or parchment paper to dry. Makes 5 to 6 dozen balls, depending on the size. (You can divide this recipe in half to make a smaller batch.)
— Adapted from a recipe on deepsouthdish.com
Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Balls
This is a basic recipe for balls that taste almost like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. You can replace the peanut butter with any kind of nut butter, or even Nutella, Biscoff or Cookie Butter. Instead of graham crackers, feel free to use about 1 to 2 cups of quick-cook oats, crushed pretzels or even a cereal like Rice Krispies or Cheerios.
18 sheets plain graham crackers (use the flavored ones if you want)
2 cups creamy peanut butter (crunchy works, too)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (12-oz.) bag Candy Melts, melting chocolate or almond bark (or a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips combined with 2 Tbsp. shortening or cooking paraffin)
Using a food processor or a bag with a rolling pin, finely crush the graham crackers. (Don’t skimp on the crushing. Any chunks of crackers will make it hard to roll out the final ball.)
In a large bowl, use a handheld or stand-up mixer to thoroughly combine graham crackers, peanut butter, butter and confectioners sugar.
Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Using your hands, shape the peanut butter mixture into 1-inch balls and place on the sheet. Once you’ve formed all the balls, place the baking sheet in the freezer for about an hour, or until the balls are firm.
When ready to coat the balls, melt the chocolate in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a double boiler. Use a spoon to coat the balls, one at a time, and return to the baking sheet. Refrigerate to help the balls set, and serve. Makes 2 to 3 dozen balls.
— Addie Broyles
This recipe might already be in your files, but if you’re not an Oreo fan, you could swap them out for just about any cream-filled cookie, such as Nutter Butters. I used mint Oreos for the batch I made, which at first didn’t seem to work well with the cream cheese, but the flavors melded together well after a few days.
1 (15.25-oz.) package Oreo cookies
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. shortening
Without removing the cream filling, crush the cookies in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or in a food processor. Don’t leave any large chunks or else the balls won’t take shape very well.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the crushed cookies and cream cheese with electric mixer until fluffy. (You can also mix by hand.) Chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight in the fridge.
When ready to make the balls, roll the mixture into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet covered with wax or parchment paper. As you go, place the tray in the refrigerator to keep the balls cold.
When ready to coat the balls, melt the chocolate and shortening in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a double boiler. (You can use Candy Melts or almond bark for this, too.)
Use a spoon to coat the balls, one at a time, and return to the baking sheet. Refrigerate to help the balls set and serve. Makes 2 to 3 dozen balls.
— Addie Broyles