I was all set to begin this post by explaining that you could learn everything you needed to know about my culinary philosophy by the fact that, despite having posted a perfectly serviceable rum ball recipe last year, when I went to make rum balls this year, I went and looked at a bunch of other recipes and synthesized a new one without even bothering to check whether I'd already posted one. But then I went and checked, and I had not, in fact, posted one, so never mind.
And then I was going to start by saying that my Christmas cookie baking had taken a bit of a detour because I was sitting at work minding my own business the other day when my mother called me and, out of the blue, asked me to make and send her some of my biscotti. This is not the sort of request that one could refuse, even if one wanted to, and I certainly didn't want to. In fact, I made a double recipe so that I could send a bunch to my mother. That also got me thinking of other cookies that I wanted to make and send with the biscotti because what, after all, is more important to a son than showing his mother that he's a better and more prolific baker than she is? Parent-child competition, after all, is at the heart of a lot of Greek tragedy, and that always ends well, doesn't it? Or at least, I'm pretty sure that Oedipus at Colonus, the Musical did. That Antigone sure could sing.
I have never made nor met a rum ball that I didn't like, and I think that probably includes the sort that are made with confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder. You can compensate for a lot with dark rum. My recipe, which uses granulated sugar and corn syrup and very dark chocolate (my standard choice: TJ's 72% dark chocolate) and a goodly quantity of very good rum is terrific. If you can eat these and not be happy, then you are having a very bad day, and I'm sorry about that.
You can, of course, make all sorts of substitutions in this recipe. One of the most common is to make bourbon balls instead. (I will not insult your intelligence by telling you how to change the rum balls into bourbon balls.) Bourbon is, indeed, a fine liquor, and if you're from Kentucky, then I can certainly understand why you might prefer it. But I really think that dark rum and dark chocolate share a special affinity. And good dark rum is just so, well, good. Open up the bottle and take a whiff. One goes so far as to say that the smell of good dark rum would be incontrovertible proof of the existence of God if only so many of his followers weren't so very intent on attributing rum to the other side. (By the way, does anyone else think "I'm working the other side/ of the heaven and hell divide" would make a good hip hop lyric, or is it just me? Yeah, it's always just me, isn't it?)
I have also seen recipes where people replace the vanilla wafers and cocoa/chocolate with crushed Oreos. This strikes me as not the best possible idea, but you do what you like. You can certainly substitute another nut for the walnuts. In fact, I considered substituting black walnuts, but I only have twelve ounces of black walnuts left, and they are too precious to use in a recipe where they are not really showcased. Besides, the rum balls are fabulous with English walnuts.
I did read one article that suggested replacing the vanilla wafers with shortbread cookies. I reckon that if you use either shortbread or butter cookies that you will be a God among men, but, really, who needs that much responsibility? People will be asking you to heal them or to pick winning lottery numbers ALL THE TIME. See also my note about rum earlier. Do you really want to give that up?
Finally, you can roll your rum balls in nothing, in granulated sugar, in confectioner's sugar, in finely chopped nuts, in shredded coconut, or in anything you like. You could go so far as to dip them in chocolate and then roll them in any of the above. But part of the point of rum balls is that they're not so much work, and a lot of that extra rolling strikes me as unnecessary. Of course, if you dip them in chocolate, you will seal in the rum, which is a very good thing. Whether you do that or not, though, make sure to wrap the rum balls tightly after they're done. I store mine in a tin that wouldn't hold much more than this recipe (which, by the way, made six-and-one-half dozen rum balls), with waxed paper between each layer and on the bottom and top of all the layers, and with more waxed paper across the top. As much as possible, you want to avoid losing any of the alcohol to evaporation. Just because.
1 cup walnuts
A 12 ounce box of vanilla wafers
8 ounces bittersweet or extra bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup dark rum
Additional sugar, if desired, for rolling
Toast the walnuts for about 10 minutes at about 350 degrees. Be careful not to burn them. Let them cool.
Put the vanilla wafers in your food processor, and process them until they're finely ground. Add the walnuts, and process again, until the walnuts are finely ground.
Melt the chocolate, then stir in the sugar and corn syrup. Let cool and stir in the rum. It does not matter how well the rum gets incorporated into the chocolate.
Turn the chocolate mixture into the crumb mixture in the processor and process until the dough forms a smooth ball.
Using a one-inch cookie scoop (or not), scoop out pieces of the dough and roll them between your hands into balls.
Roll the balls in sugar (granulated or confectioner's) if desired.
I usually melt my chocolate in the microwave, but since I was toasting the walnuts at the same time, I just chopped it up and put it in a heatproof bowl and put the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whatever works for you.
If, when you're rolling the dough into balls, you find them a bit crumbly, try applying more pressure and rolling for longer: the dough should work itself into a coherent ball soon enough. If you're rolling the balls in sugar and get sugar on your hands, you will promote crumbliness, but you can overcome that pretty easily. If you still find the dough too crumbly, add another teaspoon or so of rum. In fact, it's a good idea to add additional rum partway through the rolling. This helps keep the dough moist, plus it increases the rum content, and that can't help but be a good thing.