Sticky Toffee Balls (or, what to do when you’ve foolishly bought dates at Costco)

So, I teach college, and it’s finals week. I have a mountain of grading to plow through, and, as it happens, I’m moving in four days. So, I bake.

I spent Monday in an all-day bake-a-thon, cooking up treats for myself and my weary colleagues. Baking is how I cope with stress and how I show love, so it works out well just as long as I keep going to the gym. I didn’t document any of those delicacies, but they started the streak that has lead to the creation of this blog. ‘Cause blogging totally justifies all this baking.

But that was Monday. Now it’s Thursday, and I’ve got multiple holiday parties to attend this weekend, and I’m not going to show up empty-handed or with a tray of dry, week-old baked goods. But I also need to pack up my entire apartment this weekend, so day-of baking is off the table.

While perusing the interwebs for holiday cookie ideas, I found this recipe for No-Bake Sticky Toffee Balls and bookmarked it for future reference. “No bake” is pretty much never a selling point for me, but I’ve had a giant bag of dates from Costco sitting in my cupboard for… a while. And I can now confirm this is a great way to make a dent in such a bag, even if it’s only a minor dent, because: Costco.

The original recipe is good. It’s easy, and I’m grateful to have given it a try. But since I had ample supplies (having bought both dates and walnuts at Costco), and since these took all of ten minutes to make, I opted for some flavor enhancements.

I toasted the walnuts in some butter (toasting nuts always adds flavor), used dark brown sugar and upped it to 1/3 of a cup (dark brown = richer flavor as far as I’m concerned), upped the vanilla and salt, and I added a 1/4 teaspoon of ginger. Much better. Still not the best things ever, but nothing to turn my nose up at. I’ll make them again, but probably not if I have to go out of my way for ingredients

15-12-10 Sticky Toffee 3
First attempt are at the back of the cookie sheet (and totally look like meatballs).

I also didn’t grind them as long the second time around – in part because my food processor got into a disagreement with a date pit and because they don’t look quite as much like meatballs when the ingredients still have texture. I can see why these need to be rolled in finishing sugar. That being said, I tried rolling them in powdered sugar and/or decorative sugar (as the original recipe suggests), and that looked nice, but tasted gross. So I rolled them in raw sugar instead. Not as glamorous, but doesn’t sacrifice taste.

Sticky Toffee Balls

(adapted from Food Network Kitchen) 3.5 out of 5 stars, even with improvements
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger (though I’ll probably up it to 1/2 next time)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 4 graham crackers

Drop the dates,* brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of butter into a microwavable bowl. Microwave in 1-minute increments (stirring between each) until the butter is melted and the sugar/butter mixture is bubbly. It took about 2 1/2 mins for me.

Heat the butter in a pan and toast the walnuts and butter, stirring frequently until you think they’re done. I would say 3-4 mins? Nut toasting is not an exact science for me.

Dump the date mixture into a food processor and pulse until fairly homogenous. Then add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the mixture comes together into a big glob (but not necessarily a uniform glob).

Scoop heaping teaspoonfuls of dough and roll them into balls. Refrigerate the balls until firm. Roll them in whatever sugar-type mixture you want to use to make ’em look pretty, but raw sugar will taste best. And it doesn’t “stick” all that well.

*Check the dates for pits first. My food processor was very unhappy about its encounter with a date pit.

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