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Traditional rum balls recipe

This traditional rum balls recipe is a tasty treat for grown-ups. This easy, no bake recipe comes together in no time and because the flavor develops even more overnight, it’s the perfect make ahead sweet. Rum balls are always a hit at holiday parties. This recipe makes 5 dozen, the perfect amount for cookie exchanges and gift-giving.

I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.

You may also be interested in my peanut butter whiskey balls and my gluten free rum balls recipes. For ease of browsing, you can find all of my rum ball recipes in one place.

Rum balls in red glass candy dish with pine cones and red berry decorations beside the bowl.

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Why you should make this recipe

  • Fast & Easy – The recipe only takes about 30 minutes to make.
  • Versatile – I have over a dozen flavors of rum ball recipes – you can easily make swaps to change the flavors!
  • Make ahead – The flavor develops even more overnight, making these the perfect make ahead no bake cookie.

Traditional rum balls recipe

This is the recipe that we are all familiar with – the one that has been served at holiday parties for as long as I can remember. It is an old fashioned, traditional rum ball recipe. If you are looking for rum balls like that, you’re in the right place.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without these rum balls. They are as much a part of our holiday treats as gingerbread, buckeyes and sugar cookies.

Traditional rum ball recipe in red candy dish with bottle brush trees in the background.

There are plenty of variations out there for making this no-bake treat. Many of them on this very blog.

You can use vanilla wafer cookies, or chocolate cookies. You can make them with or without cocoa. Rum balls can be rolled in anything from regular sugar or powdered sugar to nonpareils or colored sanding sugar for a more festive look. As long as they are boozy, you are doing it right.


Rum balls are a great holiday treat because they do not require baking, so they free up the oven space for other treats, and they are easy. The ingredient list is also relatively short, and you probably have most of it already.

Ingredients for rum balls on a white background.
  • Vanilla wafer cookies – This is the base of the rum ball recipe.
  • Pecans/walnuts – I prefer pecans to walnuts, but use whatever you like.
  • Powdered sugar – The rum ball recipe uses powdered sugar in the mixture, as well as coating them at the end.
  • Salt – Salt helps to balance the sweetness and it brings out the flavors.
  • Allspice – I think this really brings out the flavors of the rum and cookies.
    • Substitution: You can replace allspice with cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Dark rum – We can’t make rum balls without rum.
    • Substitution: Amber rum also works great. I wouldn’t use a white rum.
  • Light corn syrup – This provides a bit of extra sweetness, plus it helps the mixture to stick together.
    • Substitution: You can swap out the light corn syrup for maple syrup, date syrup, agave, etc.
  • Granulated sugar + extra powdered sugar for rolling

How to make rum balls

Here’s a quick summary of how to make this rum balls recipe. Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full recipe. 

Step by step photo instructions.

This traditional rum balls recipe is very easy to make. If you don’t have a food processor, place pecans and cookies in a zip-top plastic bag and break them up with a rolling pin.

  1. Combine vanilla wafer cookies and pecans in bowl of a food processor. Grind cookies and pecans until they look like coarse sand.
  2. Add rum, corn syrup and spices to bowl, then add cookie and nut mixture. Cover and refrigerate rum ball mixture.
  3. Scoop mixture, using a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon. Portion rum balls, then roll into smooth balls.
  4. Toss in sugar mixture and place on parchment-lined sheet pan.
Traditional rum balls on a small white plate. There is one rum ball sliced in half in the foreground, showing the interior.

Rum balls recipe FAQ’s

Do traditional rum balls need to be refrigerated?

Rum balls do not need to be refrigerated, but they should be stored in a cool area. Refrigerating will extend their shelf life.

Can I make these with bourbon?

Traditionally, bourbon balls are made with cocoa or chocolate. However, a handful of readers have made this recipe, simply substituting bourbon for rum, and they’ve had great results.

How long do rum balls last in the refrigerator?

If kept in an airtight container in the fridge, they will last a few weeks.

Last year, I had mine in the refrigerator for three weeks before they were all gone and they were still perfectly fine.

For this reason, these are a great make ahead treat for the holidays. After I’ve portioned out whatever I need for cookie exchanges or gifts, I keep the rest refrigerated for friends who pop over during the holidays.

Overhead shot of rum balls in red candy dish and small white plate with pine cones, red berries and bottle brush trees around the perimeter.

Personally, if I can feel like I’m having a drink and eating a cookie at the same time, I’m in. Therefore, my cookies definitely taste like rum.

Variations and substitutions

  • I don’t put cocoa powder in my rum balls, but if you want them to have just a touch of cocoa flavor, add 2 tablespoons with the powdered sugar in the dough.
  • Another possibility would be to add a bit of cocoa powder to your sugar mixture and roll them in a cocoa sugar blend.

Easy rum balls for Christmas

As my mom says, this traditional rum balls recipe will make your eyes twirl. We are all juggling so many things during this hectic time of year. We need an easy rum balls recipe that can be whipped up with little effort and not much time.

For some seasonal variations, try these peppermint rum balls and gingerbread rum balls too!

Powdered sugar covered no bake rum cookies in red glass candy bowl with Christmas lights in the background.

Helpful tools and equipment

  • Cookie scoop – I always use a scoop, so the rum balls are all uniform in size. I used a tablespoon-sized scoop to portion mine.
  • Serving bowl – The same style bowl I used in the photos.
  • Food processor – It makes quick work of these. It is one of the most utilized tools in my kitchen.
  • Food scale – So useful! This is the one I own and use daily.

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Rum ball image for Pinterest.

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Traditional rum balls recipe

Cheryl Bennett
This easy, traditional rum balls recipe is a tasty no bake treat for grown ups.
4.80 from 48 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Course Rum ball recipes
Cuisine American
Servings 60 pieces
Calories 67 kcal


  • 12 ounces vanilla wafer cookies 1 box of cookies
  • 1 1/4 cups pecans or walnuts toasted // 175g
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar // 170g divided
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup dark rum // 120ml
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar // 100g optional *see note


  • In the bowl of a food processor, process vanilla wafers and pecans until finely ground. Set aside. (You may have to do this batches if you have a smaller food processor) *If you do not have a food processor, place them in a zip top bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
  • In a large bowl, sift together 1 cup powdered sugar, salt and allspice.
  • Add rum and corn syrup to the powdered sugar mixture, and stir to combine.
  • Add ground up vanilla wafers and pecans to the bowl. Use a sturdy rubber spatula or spoon to mix until fully combined and uniform.
  • Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (Optional – I find it easier to scoop when the mixture has firmed up a bit) 
  • Combine remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and granulated sugar, if using, in a shallow bowl and set aside.
  • Scoop out tablespoon portions, roll into balls and toss to coat in sugar mixture.
  • Place on parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.


  • If you don't have dark rum, amber rum is a great substitute.
  • No allspice? Swap it out for cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Swap corn syrup for maple syrup, agave, date syrup, etc.
I like the combination of confectioners (powdered) sugar + granulated sugar for rolling rum balls. That being said, I've also only used only powdered sugar and they've been equally delicious.
If you find that you aren't getting good coverage after tossing them in the powdered sugar, let them rest in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, then give them a second toss in the powdered sugar. They will be snowy white with no brown cookie showing through.
If you have time, chill them overnight. This helps give them plenty of time to set up, plus the flavors really come out more the following day.
Store any leftover rum balls in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 – 3 weeks.


Serving: 1gCalories: 67kcalCarbohydrates: 10gFat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gSodium: 44mgSugar: 7g
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  1. I’ve never heard of this tradition before! I bet my hubby would LOVE them. Can’t wait to share them with him and his family this Christmas.

  2. “As long as they are boozy, you are doing it right.”

    THIS IS (one of the many reasons) WHY WE ARE FRIENDS! I’ve never made a rum or bourbon ball before, so clearly, I need to fix that this holiday season. Because you know how I feel about booze and baked goods and celebrations. 😉

    Thank you so much for participating in this year’s exchange and joining us in sharing some cookies and spreading the love!

    1. Thank you so much, Erin! There are so many reasons why we’re friends 🙂
      Booze and baked goods will bind us forever!

  3. OMG! Used bourbon and everyone loved them!! We will make these again! Almost couldn’t let them leave… can’t eat these and drive??

  4. I have only had the “traditional” rum balls so I was excited to see all of the variations you have suggested. Sound so good.

    1. Hi Karen, YES!! They freeze like a dream 🙂
      You might want to re-roll in powdered sugar to make them party-ready again, though.

    1. Hi Misha,Yes you can! Keep in mind that maple syrup is sweeter than corn syrup (and a little thinner). So, you *may* have to adjust cookies/nuts just a smidge for your personal preference.

    1. Hi Judy! Honestly, whatever I have in the cabinet at the time 🙂 I’ve used Gosling’s black rum and Appleton’s reserve (that one is an amber rum). For bourbon – I use Bulleit or Woodford. Let me know what you think!

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