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Marshmallow and Coconut Snowballs for a Sugary Treat

marshmallow coconut snowballs

Marshmallow and coconut snowballs. Credit: Charles Perry.

Snow is pretty much a theoretical thing to Californians, but we are aware out here that it is associated with Christmas somehow. We dutifully put white stuff on and around our Christmas trees to represent snow.

It’s the meteorological symbol of the season, and this is how I got thinking about the only snowball I knew when I was growing up, a mysterious dessert that was called a snowball. It was coated with shredded coconut — as a result, for years I had a thoroughly false impression of what a real snowball is like — but I can’t remember what the rest of it was.

Was it a cake? A miniature cake in spherical form? You couldn’t make that at home because spherical cake molds are pretty hard to find. And anyway, it didn’t seem quite worth the trouble because you can have coconut cupcakes any time of year. And I didn’t want to make my snowball with ice cream, too messy. Too cold, in fact.

Extra sweet for a special treat

But ever since I discovered how easy it is to make marshmallow, I’ve been trying to think of new ways to use it. So how about marshmallow made in cupcake molds and then covered with a gentle snowfall of shredded coconut?

The idea dazzled me. It reawakened a childhood dream, the possibility of a cake that was all frosting. Marshmallow is a first cousin to frosting. It’s a sort of meringue made with gelatin instead of egg white. The classic American seven-minute icing is actually a meringue; a classically trained chef could call it a sort of Swiss meringue. The difference is that marshmallow is more luscious than meringue because it’s solidified by playful, jiggly gelatin instead of stiff cooked egg white.

These don’t come out quite spherical, but neither does every real snowball, so I am informed. It’s basically just a ball of luscious sweetness. In fact, it’s very, very sweet, as a glance at the ingredient list will reveal. Unless you’re a child with a raging sweet tooth, you’d probably want to have something non-sweet with it, say, coffee with no sugar at all.

And anyway, the holiday season comes but once a year. You can atone by eating rice crackers after New Year’s.

Marshmallow and Coconut Snowballs

Makes 8 snowballs


1 cup water, divided

2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1½ cups sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

¼ teaspoon vanilla

About 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

About 2 cups shredded or flaked coconut


1. Put ½ cup water in a mixing bowl (preferably mixing bowl of an electric mixer) and sprinkle the gelatin on the surface. Set aside until the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes.

2. Make a double boiler by setting a small saucepan on a burner with a cup or two of water in it. Bring to a medium boil and set the mixing bowl over it until the gelatin dissolves, about 6 minutes (it will be transparent with a faint brown color with perhaps a little foam floating on top). Set aside to cool. If you didn’t melt the gelatin in the bowl of your stand mixer, transfer it there.

3. Put the other ½ cup water in a small saucepan, preferably nonstick, along with the sugar and the corn syrup. Bring to the boil, put a lid on the pan and boil 3 minutes for the steam to wash any sugar crystals off the walls of the pan. Remove the lid, insert a thermometer into the pan and boil until the syrup reaches any temperature from 238 to 244 F.

4. Pour the syrup onto the gelatin and beat the mixture on high speed until it is relatively cool, about 25 minutes.

5. Spray a cupcake mold or molds (this recipe makes about 8 snowballs) with nonstick spray.

6. Beat the vanilla into the marshmallow and transfer it to the cupcake mold by ladles, scraping the ladles off with a spoon or scraper. Fill to the top of the molds. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 12 hours.

7. Spread the confectioner’s sugar on a work surface. Run a butter knife around the edges of the molds and carefully pry the snowballs out. Put them broad side down on the confectioner’s sugar to keep them from being sticky.

8. Pour the coconut onto a plate and separate the shreds of they are clumped together. One at a time, pick up the snowballs and roll the sides and the top in the coconut. Transfer to a serving plate and patch any bald spots with coconut.

Photo: Marshmallow and coconut snowballs. Credit: Charles Perry

Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock 'n' roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times' award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.