How to Make Rumballs

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Holidays in the Norton household back in Madison inevitably mean two things: spritz cookies and rumballs. The former are fairly common up here in American’s Scandinavian Zone, but the latter are a bit more obscure.

Rumballs are dense — really, really dense — little nuggets of chocolatey rummy goodness, rolled in chocolate jimmies to give them a bit of texture. Buy a lot of jimmies for this recipe — one or two 10.5-oz. containers is a good start, particularly if you end up making them again… which is almost inevitable.

The trick to making these is to keep the balls relatively small — roughly ½ inch in diameter. You’ll find that as you roll out your cookies, the job gets progressively less interesting, and your rumballs will naturally get larger and larger. If you start rolling golfball-sized cookies, pause, collect yourself, and try to focus a little harder.

Keep in mind that these get better after sitting around for a day. On day one, the rum taste and smell is typically too strong for anybody but an 18th century pirate. On days two and three, they really hit the peak balance between sweet and rummy.

A number of years ago, living in Boston and homesick, I called home and asked for the recipe.

My brother, who just missed me on the phone, later emailed me the recipe. He (on crutches, at the time) attached the following introduction:

“So I hobbled over to the phone to say hi, but you had already hung up. So, here is the recipe for rumballs. Keep in mind that women love these, and will try to sleep with you after you give these to them.


Nortonian Rumballs
yields 32

½ lb Vanilla Wafers (48 cookies)
4 tbsp Droste or Valrhona Cocoa. Nothing else will do.
1 c ground pecans
½ c light corn syrup, + 1 tbsp
¼ c Myers Dark rum
Chocolate jimmies! Yeah!

Grind wafers to fine crumbs. Add everything else but the Jimmies. Stir the hell out of it. Roll into little balls, and then roll in jimmies. Admire the poop-like smear on your hands. Chase your girlfriend, saying, “I shit on my hands! I shit on my hands!”

And have a merry holiday. See you soon.


  1. Kelly

    Ok, that REALLY made me laugh out loud. Well done.

    I love rumballs AND rumcake – remember 1975-ish potluck recipe with yellow cake mix and butter/rum topping? I can’t even imagine what those calories are like… My mom still makes it, but ruins it with chopped nuts on the top. blech.

  2. James Norton

    I do indeed have a funny brother, no doubt. Post a link to the rumcake recipe (or a similar version) if you get a chance. Would be curious to see what that entails… wonder if you could decorate a rumcake with rumballs without warping the fabric of time/space.

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