Round cookie tins, particularly red and green ones, hold the promise of the treat I seek. If I can just confirm one of these tins on the counter holds those rich brown chocolate balls then I can be sure there is a stash in the basement freezer.
The sound of the tin giving way as I open it can’t be muffled because it is a distinct soft clang. Giving up all pretense of sneaking I turn to see who, if anybody, is paying attention to me. At first it seems as if nobody is looking. I glance down into the tin. The treats inside look yummy, some kind of jam filled cookie, but not the treat I’m seeking. I close it and reach for another tin. As it clangs open a large hand closes on my shoulder causing me to jump.
“Need a snack dear?” Dad asks. I can feel the pressure on my shoulder as he uses me to steady himself while he peers over my shoulder to see what’s inside tin number two. His other hand dives into the tin and removes a date square. “Um, these are my favourite. You having one dear?” He asks with a chuckle as he pats and rubs my shoulder in one motion, his idea of an encouraging gesture.
“No, I’m just looking to see what’s in all of these,” I say with a vague wave at the tower of tins.
“Hmm, okay,” he says with crumbs escaping his lips. He wanders off across the kitchen to join in the conversation at the table.
I turn to tin three. A thin sheet of parchment conceals the contents. My pulse rate goes up a tiny bit, this is an exciting tin because the parchment usually covers the chocolate treats. In slow motion I pull the parchment away. I stifle the urge to hoot and yell the word score.
Under the parchment are a bunch of tiny chocolate balls. Some are rolled in crushed nuts and some are rolled in coconuts. I can’t understand why they just don’t leave the balls plain. The nuts and coconut irritate me because I just want the smooth texture of the chocolate and the coat nuts or coconut blur the texture and mask the initial taste.
A fast search over the top layer reveals the least coated balls. I pop one into my mouth maneuvering it so that the few bits of coconut fall off leaving the bare chocolate behind. I try to savour that balance between sweet and bitterness mixed with that hint of almond. It has been too long since I had this Christmas treat that grandma makes and I am chewing before I realize. I chewed the second ball as well. I grab one more and close the tin.
I tiptoe from the room and creep down the stairs. The freezer stands humming in the corner. I glance up the stairway to make sure that nobody followed me. Once I am sure that the coast is clear I open the freezer. The squeak threatens to give me away and I pause to listen. The murmur of voices flows along and there is no sounds to indicate someone coming my way. I breathe a sigh of relief and grab an icy tin.
With luck the first one I open has a full stock of Christmas balls. I pop one into my mouth ignoring the chill. I ease the freezer closed and look around wondering where I can hide. My intake of these delicious treats is usually limited. The adults tell me that there is alcohol in these treats, tiny chocolate liquor balls, so I can’t have too many. I can’t help myself though because these are so delicious, and they are my favourite grandma Christmas treat.
I squirrel myself away and pop ball after ball into my cheeks. The outer layer melts quickly, but the centre retains that cold freeze. After a while I stop worrying about someone finding me. I’m lounging on the cold concrete floor watching my feet that are crossed at the ankles sway back and forth happily to an unseen rhythm.
The tin is almost empty when I put it back in the freezer and bounce up the stairs. I feel happy and full of energy as I explode up out the top of the stairway and speed into the kitchen. I slide to a standstill at the table smiling. Heads snap in my direction but quickly disregard me and the conversation continues. As I stand there I become aware that my tummy feels bloated and yucky, but my mouth happily remembers the taste of cold slow melting chocolate.
When my cousin arrives I show her how to sneak to the basement and we raid another tin. Sometime later, on our way back upstairs we are giggling uncontrollably and we wonder if we are drunk from the amaretto balls.
* * *
Although I’m sure our trips to the basement coupled with the dwindling stock of chocolate balls wasn’t going unnoticed nobody ever said anything to us about it. I must have been around 8 years old at the time. A few years later when I was given my own copy of the recipe the memory of sneaking extra treats floats to the front of my mind and I can’t help but smirk.
Amaretto balls are still a favourite treat of mine, but I can only stomach one or two at a time. I find that the recipe stocks my freezer for a time well past the Christmas holidays.
Amaretto Balls Recipe from December of 1989
- 3 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ cup amaretto liquor
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 package of finely ground almonds
In a heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt the chocolate chips and condensed milk. Remove from heat and add almond extract and amaretto. Chill 2 hours. Shape into ¾ inch balls and roll in nuts or coconut flakes. Chill 1 hour.
By Shari Marshall – 2017