This recipe for baked apples, from William Henderson’s 1828 cookbook Modern Domestic Cookery, presumably takes its name from its appearance. Once covered in meringue (which the recipe calls icing), the apples do look a lot like giant snowballs.
Henderson’s recipe is unusual in that the apples are baked. I could only find two other Snowball recipes, one from Maria Rundell in 1807 and the other from Eliza Acton in 1845. They are almost identical; each features apples wrapped in rice and boiled, although the flavorings are slightly different. Eliza Acton also gives a recipe for Orange Snow-balls prepared exactly the same way.
Henderson’s recipe instead calls for the apples to be wrapped in pastry and baked. They are then topped with meringue, which gives them their snowy appearance. The only flavoring used is marmalade. In this detail they are similar to another recipe by Eliza Acton, in which she also calls for apples to be cored and filled with marmalade (you can watch the wonderful Mrs. Crocombe make them here). Still, her recipe is for dumplings, not baked apples, and I have yet to find another historic recipe that tops baked apples with meringue. Henderson’s Snow Balls recipe appears to be unique.
I modified his recipe slightly to make only two Snow Balls. I also adapted a modern recipe for hot water pastry dough from Epicurious; while Henderson did include a recipe for hot water pastry in his cookbook, it was proportioned to make a massive quantity of dough and I just didn’t feel like working out the math to make a smaller amount.
- 2 large baking apples
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- a pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup cold butter
- 1/3 cup cold vegetable shortening
- about 2-3 tbsp boiling water
- 2 oz powdered sugar
- 3 egg whites
To make the pastry, stir together the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the center. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and put in the well. Pour boiling water over the fats in the bowl, stirring with a fork until water is incorporated. Continue stirring with fork until fat is evenly distributed in the flour. On a floured surface divide the dough into two portion, and smear each portion once with the heel of your hand to help distribute the fat. Form the portions into disks, wrap them in plastic wrap, and chill for about 1 hour.
Once the dough is chilled, roll it out into two pieces. Peel and core the apples and fill the centers with marmalade. Place each apple on a piece of pastry dough and wrap the dough around it evenly. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the crust is cooked and starting to turn golden, about 45 minutes – 1 hour.
Whisk the egg whites and powdered sugar together until they form stiff peaks. Spread in an even layer over the apples; the meringue should be about 1/4 inch thick all over. Place back in the oven at 225 until the meringue is hardened, about 20-25 minutes. At this point my meringue was firm on the outside and a little marshmallow-y on the inside. It was just starting to take on some color so I took it out of the oven; any browning would ruin the snowball appearance. If you want your meringue to be on the harder side, you could probably bake it at an even lower heat for a longer period of time.
This was truly delicious, although it was difficult to finish because it was almost overwhelming sweet and rather large. One Snow Ball could probably serve two people unless they were very, very hungry. To counteract the sweetness, I would suggest using the tartest marmalade you can find, and adding cinnamon or other spices to the apple before wrapping it in pastry. Otherwise, it’s perfect – it’s like a big ball of apple pie.
Update: After writing this post praising William Henderson for his “unique” recipe, I was browsing through Elizabeth Raffald’s 1786 cookbook The Experienced English Housekeeper and found a Snow Balls recipe that is almost word-for-word the same. Cookbook writers cribbed from one another all the time, and apparently Henderson was no exception.