Personal, no-bake honey rum balls are too good to give away

Homemade food gifts are hit or miss, so make these boozy treats just for yourself

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 11, 2022 4:30PM (EST)

Rum Balls (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Rum Balls (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

You don’t need an expensive new piece of equipment, or an obscure ingredient you have to hunt for. You just need a fresh way of preparing an old favorite. In "One Way," we’ll revisit classic ingredients and dishes, giving them a new twist with an easy technique you haven’t tried before.

My unpopular holiday opinion is that food gifts are almost always a terrible idea. When I see the annual deluge of recipes for candy cane bark and the like, I just want to add a warning to them that asks, "Does your intended recipient really want this? Are you sure?"

Don't get me wrong; a thoughtful, well-executed gesture is always welcome. I am still dreaming about the perfectly infused spicy olive oil a friend bestowed last year, and the devastating coquito my neighbor makes. But food is so personal, so idiosyncratic, so time and space and taste and dietary restrictions dependent, that unless you are very confident about your giftee, you can easily wind up creating something that will just go to waste. (Raise a hand if you've ever watched a batch of holiday cookies grow hard and stale on the kitchen counter, before meeting their inevitable January fate in the bottom of the trash can.) I believe that giving food as a present is like giving scent as a present — there's just way too much room for disappointment.

If your biscotti is famous in your friend group, my hat is off to you. But if you're considering going through the motions this year with some halfhearted batch of brittle, let me urge you now to take that pressure off yourself and the folks on your gift list.

This doesn't mean that festive food has to be shunned. From one of my favorite cookbooks of last year, Jesse Szewczyk's masterful "Cookies: The New Classics," comes a recipe for rum balls so exquisite, you conveniently won't even want to give them away.

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Szewczyk's rum balls have it all over their traditional counterparts thanks to spiced rum and graham crackers, which give them a decidedly fragrant, gingerbread-like oomph. They also require no baking, no fancy ingredients and almost zero time or effort. So in the spirit of giving this year, treat yourself

I make my rum balls with dark, rich buckwheat honey for extra depth. I also make a smaller portion, the better to minimize sharing. The quantity suggested here is just enough to cap off an intimate dinner party, or keep you and you alone happy for a couple of days. You could definitely tuck a few into your tote to sneakily take the edge off your next family gathering. Of course, you can easily double or quadruple the quantities here and give these out to your friends who consume alcohol and don't have nut allergies. But why take chances? Chances are, they'd appreciate a zester more anyway.

* * *

Inspired by "Cookies: The New Classics," by Jesse Szewczyk 

Personal no-bake honey rum balls
 18 servings
Prep Time
 5 minutes
Active Time
 10 minutes


  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 sleeves of graham crackers, roughly broken
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup of buckwheat honey
  • 2 tablespoons of spiced dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup of confetti nonpareils or sprinkles



  1. Pour the nonpareils into a shallow bowl. Line a sheet pan with parchment.
  2. In a food processor or blender, finely grind the walnuts. If you don't have a processor, you can crush your ingredients in a Ziploc bag with a rolling pin.
  3.  Add the graham crackers, cocoa, cinnamon and salt and grind until the mixture is the texture of coarse sand.
  4. Add the honey, rum and vanilla and blend until everything starts to come together.
  5. Using a teaspoon or small cookie scoop, portion the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls. 
  6. Roll the balls in the nonpareils and set them on the sheet. Store at room temperature. 

Cook's Notes

Szewczyk recommends making these a day in advance to maximize the flavors and texture.

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Jesse Szewczyk No Bake One Way Recipe Rum Balls