Sno-Balls, or Snowballs, are a type of snack cake made by Hostess that feature a chocolate cake surrounded by a marshmallow frosting then rolled in coconut to give it a fluffy, snowy look. Like other snack cakes made by the company, the chocolate cake centers are creme-filled. Sno Balls were introduced in 1947 as all-white creations, with white frosting and white coconut over a chocolate cake. To jazz them up, cream filling was added to the cakes in 1950, and at some point the company started tinting the coconut topping pink. It wasn’t exactly snowball-like, but the color certainly was eye catching. I only had these cakes a few times as a kid (drawn in by the color, I admit!). They looked good, and sounded good, but never tasted as good as I hoped they would . I decided to put together a homemade version so I could have the treats, fresh and tasty, any time.
I started out with a plain chocolate cupcake. The packaged cakes seem to use a moist sponge cake, but I wanted something that would be more tender and would have more chocolate flavor. I ended up opting for a fairly straightforward chocolate cake, using cocoa powder (as opposed to melted chocolate) to keep the cake light and the flavor deep, without being overwhelming to the frosting and topping. Once the cakes were baked, I cut out the centers to prepare to fill them. I found the cake to be very easy to work with and it held up really well during handling for filling and frosting.
For the frosting, I used a marshmallow-like icing that involves cooking sugar to soft ball stage and streaming it in to beaten egg whites. The finished consistency is somewhere between marshmallow and meringue, and is very similar to the frosting used on the packaged cakes, but with a much better flavor. It didn’t spread on as smoothly as a buttercream would have, but did smooth out nicely when the cakes were rolled in coconut and created much better representation of what the “real” cake should be. I used the frosting for the cake filling, too, and flavored it with a little bit of vanilla extract and coconut extract. The coconut is optional, but since there is no shredded coconut in the filling, it gives the whole thing a bit more flavor if you use it.
Leave the cakes out for at least 2 hours after being frosted and rolled in coconut to give the icing a chance to dry and set up. It will still be light and tender when you bite into it, but it will hold its shape much better than it did when wet. These can be stored for about a day or maybe a day and a half, but they’ll go quickly, so don’t worry about having leftovers.
Homemade Snowball Cupcakes
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups milk (low fat is fine)
Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease two 12-cup muffin tins (don’t bother using wrappers, as you’d just have to remove them to work with the cakes).
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla extract.
In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Add half of flour mixture to the butter mixture, followed by the milk, then finished with the addition of the rest of the flour mix. Stir well between each addition and mix only until no streaks of flour remain.
Evenly distribute batter into prepared baking cups. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the cakes spring back when lightly pressed. (It’s fine if you can’t fit both trays into the oven at the same time, just wait until one batch finishes before putting in the second pan).
Turn cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting and filling.
Prepare cooled cupcakes for filling by using a small pairing knife, to cut a cone of cake (1-inch across by 1-inch deep) out of the bottom of each cupcake. Trim off the pointy end of the cone, leaving a thin and flat circle of cake. Set aside and repeat this process for all the cupcakes. Centers can be discarded, but save the discs of cake to seal the filled cakes later. Cupcakes should be set upside down for this project. (A photo how-to of the assembly method can be found here.)
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract (optional)
3 cups sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut
Put the egg whites in to bowl of an electric mixer or a large bowl with a hand mixer nearby.
Combine sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cool until syrup reaches 242F (use a candy thermometer).
As syrup nears correct temperature, begin to beat egg whites to soft peaks. Slowly stream in the hot sugar syrup, followed by the vanilla and coconut extracts. Beat for about 10 minutes after everything has been incorporated, or until frosting reaches room temperature.
Meanwhile, process coconut in a food processor until very fine. Add a drop of two of red food coloring if you wish to make some pink. Pour into a shallow bowl and set aside.
Place about 1 cup of frosting into a piping bag and pipe the filling into each hollowed out cupcake. Top off with a flat circle of cake to plug the hole and keep the filling in place.
Using a butter knife or a small offset spatula, frost the sides and top of each cupcake (the side with the hole cut out) with a thick layer of the frosting. Holding the cupcake carefully, gently roll it in shredded coconut and set, unfrosted-side down, on a serving platter. Repeat for each cupcake.