Tequila balls

Holiday food traditions are enduring and endearing, wherever we expats find ourselves in the world. The foods we associate with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan follow us as we relocate, and keep the holidays normal and familiar. And boy, do we need a sense of normalcy this year. Here in Mexico, I still make treats at Christmastime that we enjoyed decades ago when we lived in the U.S., but ingedients not found in Mexico (or our little town of Mascota) have been swapped out for close substitutes. Pumpkin pie is now made with calabaza (Mexican winter squash); mincemeat pie filling is homemade, instead of from a Cross and Blackwell jar; and tequila balls, formerly known as rum balls, are moistened with our state of Jalisco’s renown tequila. I think it’s called being flexible, and expats learn to be good at that.

Graham crackers aren’t common in Mexico, if they even exist here at all. But Hony Bran crackers come pretty darn close. After twenty-two years living and cooking in Mexico, the taste of graham crackers has become a distant memory and Hony Bran fills the gap when a graham cracker pie crust is needed. Or tequila balls.

And then we moved to Mascota five years ago and discovered their two CBTa stores, retail outlets for locally made foods, like dairy products of all kinds, preserved fruit, coffee, and cookies galore. I don’t know how cookies came to be a Mascota thing, but locally made galletas (cookies) are in every little store. Galletas de avena y salvado (cookies with oats and wheat bran) are hearty cookies, not too sweet, that just taste like they have to be good for you. They even look healthy. With that kind of reasoning, we have no problem eating a lot of them. CBTa stands for Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico Agropecuario, the name of Mascota’s technical high school that teaches trades. Don’t ask me why the “a” in CBTa is lower-case. Some things we gringos are not meant to know.

So tequila replaced rum, galletas de avena y salvado replaced Hony Bran, which had already replaced graham crackers, and tequila balls became a new Christmas treat in Mexico.

If you are in the U.S. or Canada, use graham crackers (or any other dry cookie). If you are in Mexico, use Hony Bran crackers. If you are my one reader in Mascota (hola, Maria!), use galletas de avena y salvado from the CBTa store.

This recipe was adapted from my tattered Joy of Cooking cookbook for “Rum Drops, Uncooked”. This recipe is so easy, your child or grandchild could help roll the balls. No baking required. Joy instructs us to let the balls ripen for 12 hours, to disperse the alcohol flavor, I guess. But with less than 1/2 teaspoon of tequila per ball, any lingering alcohol taste is not a problem for this alcohol abstainer. I suggest you ignore the final recipe instruction, as I do. It’s Christmas, after all!

And now, the popular request from last week’s post on Star Fruit Upside-down Cake. Well, requested twice.  “Would love a pic of your campesino tree”, in reference to our Christmas “tree” that’s really a dried flower stalk from the Blue Agave plant, the agave from which tequila is made. There are no green boughs or pine aroma in our house, but it’s our tree, and seems to have become an annual tradition for us, along with tequila balls. It’s only as I type this that I realize how the request for photos of the tequila Blue Agave “tree” nicely dovetails with the recipe for tequila balls.

The mother agave plant begins to die when it produces the flower stalk. But life continues when seed pods and plantlets fall to the ground. The photo on the right shows both still attached to our tree, adding its own decorations.

Feliz Navidad, dear readers. I appreciate each and every one of you. I wish you good times and good food with your loved ones. Safe holidays!

Tequila Balls

  • 2 cups (7 oz/200 g) graham cracker crumbs (use food processor or rolling pin to crush)
  • 1 cup (3.6 oz/104 g) finely chopped walnuts (use food processor, or knife)
  • 3/4 cup (2.6 oz/75 g) sifted confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar, or azúcar glass in Mexico)
  • 2 tablespoons sifted, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 (22 ml) tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons (60 ml) tequila
  • Additional cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar to coat balls
  1. Thoroughly blend all dry ingredients.
  2. Warm honey and blend with tequila.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients for an evenly moist consistency. Mixture should clump together when squeezed in your hand.
  4. Roll into small balls. I formed balls about 20 grams in weight, for a diameter of 1 3/8″ (3.5 cm), but roll whatever seems the right size for you.
  5. Roll balls in cocoa powder and/or confectioner’s sugar.
  6. Store in an air-tight container for 12 hours “to ripen”.


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An invitation to a tequila tasting at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

An invitation from Casa Magna Marriott Resort in Puerto Vallarta, inviting me to a free tequila tasting, has arrived in my inbox. I always knew that writing Cooking in Mexico would bring unexpected pleasures my way. I just didn’t know it would be in the form of artisanal tequila. And you, most fortunate of readers, are invited to attend, also.

This invitation marks the 100th. post for my food blog, Cooking in Mexico. I wanted to do something special to mark the 100th. article, but I wasn’t sure what. It is serendipitous that a free tequila tasting comes to me with this milestone post, and even more special that I can share it with my readers who have made Cooking in Mexico a success. Gracias!

Audrey Formisano, the resort’s tequilier, will lead the tastings while she enlightens us on the nuances and distinctions of their five distillations. Audrey’s goal is to spread the appreciation of fine, artisanal tequila, and she is well qualified to do this, being one of Mexico’s most informed and enthusiastic tequiliers. You may have read an earlier article I wrote on Casa Magna’s tequila, so you will already know the treat awaiting you.

Free tastings will be each Friday in September and October at 6 p.m. in the lobby bar. Space is limited and reservations are required. To make your reservation, call the Casa Magna concierge desk at 322-226-0017.

I will attend the tasting on September 24, and look forward to meeting any of my readers who also wish to enjoy this rare opportunity of fine tequila tasting.

Casa Magna is located in the Zona Marina Vallarta, close to Marina Puerto Vallarta. I hope to see you there.


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Mayahuel, the Goddess of Tequila, Dwells at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Mayahuel, the tequila goddess, resides at Casa Magna Marriott Resort in Puerto Vallarta. For six years, some of the finest tequila distilled in Mexico has been bottled exclusively for Casa Magna Marriott. Sold only in Puerto Vallarta at Casa Magna, this tequila is a sublime experience for lovers of the distilled spirit of blue agave.

We recently sat down with Audrey Formisano, the sommelier of Casa Magna Marriott, to learn more of this special tequila and its history. Audrey proved to be a wealth of knowledge and brimmed with enthusiasm for this most Mexican of drinks.

When Dennis Whitelaw, the hotel’s general manager, first came to Casa Magna, he saw hundreds of blue agave plants that were part of the colorful, tropical landscape. As a tequila connoisseur, he realized that the hotel had the principal ingredient for making their own private label tequila. Today, these same plants that lend an authentic Mexican atmosphere to Casa Magna also contribute their hearts, the piñas, to each bottle of Casa Magna tequila.

Casa Magna Marriott is one of only a few hotels in Puerto Vallarta certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, the national regulatory tequila council. For this certification, hotel staff took a course on distilling and serving tequila. The council requires the hotel to follow certain procedures, such as destroying each tequila bottle once emptied to insure that it will never be refilled with an inferior product. Each beautiful hand-blown bottle is only used one time.

Casa Magna bottles five distillations — blanco, joven, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. Prices range from 480 pesos to 950 pesos a bottle. If you order a glass of Casa Magna tequila, it will be served in an ouverture tequila glass, made by Riedel for serving fine tequila and approved by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila.

Audrey, the sommelier, hails from France, and speaks with fervor of her mission to educate hotel guests on the unique qualities of tequila, a drink not always associated with moderation or known for an appreciation of its nuances. “We want everyone to know of this wonderful Mexican experience, that this is an elegant drink to be taken seriously.” To accomplish this, she conducts sessions in tequila appreciation at the hotel, either for groups or individuals. Each session is geared to the personal interests of the participants, so there is no set agenda or time duration.

So passionate is she in educating guests at the hotel about tequila, that selling Casa Magna tequila is not her primary goal. “If I can talk to our guests about tequila, how special it is, and they order a label other than ours, I’m happy that they have a new appreciation for tequila.”

Russell, my willing taster, and I were offered a glass of Casa Magna extra añejo. Our new appreciation began with the first sip. Russ and I looked at each other in amazement, realizing this was a drink like no other. Audrey suggested that we were tasting undertones of oak, chocolate, almond and vanilla, a complex, exquisite blend. Russ said the extra añejo reminded him of fine whiskey, and Audrey agreed, explaining that their distillery in the town of Tequila uses casks that were previously used for whiskey. The smoothness reminded me of the finest cognac I have ever had. This was a drink to savor slowly, not to down quickly with a grimace and a lick of salt.

You do not need to be a guest at Casa Magna to enjoy a glass of tequila at their bar or buy a bottle in their deli. And the tequila appreciation class is available to anyone, not just guests at the hotel.

Casa Magna Marriott Resort is located in the Zona Marina Vallarta, north of downtown. For a tequila appreciation class, call Casa Magna at 322-226-0000 after 3 p.m. and ask for Audrey. For an unforgettable tequila drink, show up anytime at their bar. Audrey will help you make a selection.


Tequila was first produced in the sixteenth century near the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco when the Spanish conquistadors ran out of brandy. Pre-hispanic Mexico already had a long history of making pulque, a fermented drink made from the agave plant.

Blue agaves grow for about eight years, until the hearts, known as piñas, are big enough to be harvested and weigh up to 80 pounds, about 36 kilos. The juice of the piñas is pressed and fermented. Several distillations follow, after which it is aged and bottled. Blanco is aged less than two months, extra añejo for a minimum of three years.

True tequila comes only from the state of Jalisco and certain areas of four other Mexican states.


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