Hostess Sno Balls always remind me of Cheryl Swanson, our high school pep-squad leader who was fond of tight, hot-pink Angora sweaters. It was the late '70s, and the retro '50s look was in, so all of us were desperate to resemble someone from "Happy Days." I think she was going for one of Richie's perky, pearl-draped girlfriends. Although these coconut-covered Sno Balls never reached the apotheosis of Proust's ridiculously over-referenced, and undoubtedly overrated, madeleines, they've been a favorite since the Truman era.
Sno Balls were invented in 1947, says Mike Redd, vice president of cake marketing at Interstate Bakeries, the company that bought Hostess in 1995. After World War II, during which flour and sugar were rationed, America was devouring manufactured sweets, and the Sno Ball was an instant hit. Even though there never has been a TV ad budget for Sno Balls, Redd says they continue to sell, though not quite as well as their heavily advertised--and in my opinion less telegenic--siblings, Hostess Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes.
It took some tinkering, though, before these perfect domes of fuzzy Day-Glo pinkness became the Marilyn Monroe of the snack rack. Sno Balls originally were chocolate cupcakes covered with ho-hum white marshmallow and shredded coconut, hence the name. Not long after, Hostess decided to jazz them up by using tinted pink coconut and, for added effect, using one white and one pink Sno Ball in each package. Later, for efficiency's sake, two of the same color were coupled. And it wasn't until 1950 that the icing on the cake so to speak--the cream filling--was added.
To add to their identity crisis, Sno Balls have had more aliases than P. Diddy. In a marketing ploy, they were variously known as Igloos and Bunny Puffs in winter and spring, respectively. The new names lasted one year.
It comes as little surprise that while the rest of the country has been enjoying pink Sno Balls for 57 years, Los Angeles--never content to follow the crowd--has been munching on a pinker version all its own. In a quirk of production that until now has gone unpublicized, the local factory on St. Andrews Place decided to tint both the marshmallow and the coconut. The "happy accident," as Redd calls it, made for a more intense color, and the pink-on-pink version still is manufactured exclusively in Los Angeles. Perhaps because of its Max Factor-worthy pinker blush, Sno Balls are no strangers to movie and television sets. The marshmallow-and-coconut snack has had supporting roles in episodes of the "The X-Files" and "Gilmore Girls," and the film "The Mirror Has Two Faces."
Although Sno Balls still turn heads after all these years, we've given them a face-lift using a rich cake made from Dutch-processed cocoa and a slathering of ethereal Italian meringue with a pink touch that's pure L.A. Happy days are here again.
Makes 6 large snowballs
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for coating molds
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting molds
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract, optional
1 teaspoon powdered instant coffee dissolved in 2/3 cup boiling water
MERINGUE FILLING AND FROSTING
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, preferably Baker's Angel Flake Coconut
3 drops red food coloring
Domed cupcake pan with 6 1/2-cup molds, 3 1/2 inches in diameter by 1 1/2 inches deep.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the molds. Set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. Add the egg and then the yolk to the butter and sugar mixture, scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the sour cream and extract, and mix until combined. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the instant coffee mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Fill the molds almost to the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Run the tip of a knife around the rim of each cake and lift out. Place domes on a rack to cool completely.
In a small, heavy saucepan combine the sugar and water. Place over medium heat and boil, covered, for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until the syrup reaches soft-ball stage (235 to 240 degrees) for another 3 minutes. Meanwhile, using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed. When frothy, add the salt. Beat until the whites are glossy and hold soft peaks. When the syrup is ready, pour it in a very thin stream down the side of the bowl into the egg whites. Continue to beat on high until the mixture cools, about 8 to 10 minutes. When cool, beat in the vanilla.
Place the coconut in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add three drops of food coloring and pulse 15 times. Pour into a large bowl.
With a serrated knife, carefully slice off the top third of each snowball. Pinch about a tablespoon and a half of cake from the bottom section and discard. Fill the hole with a dollop of meringue and replace the top. Thickly frost the top of the snowballs. Then generously sprinkle each one with coconut until completely covered. Tamp down gently to maintain the domed shape. Serve on individual plates.
Wilton Mini Ball domed cupcake molds available at Gloria's Cake & Candy Supplies, Mar Vista, (310) 391-4557.