Essay

The Chocolate Cake I Waited 28 Years (& 2 Days) to Eat

It was worth the wait.

March  4, 2019

Childhood food memories are ubiquitous, and for good reason. At an age where a sense of control over one's experience can otherwise feel limited, gratifying sensory stimulation—taste, smell, sight, sometimes touch, sometimes sound, sometimes all at once—is sure to breed nostalgia.

But what about a childhood food crush? Not quite a memory of eating, but rather a memory of a food-infatuation that's significant only because it's remained unfulfilled for so many decades?

I wonder aloud to my partner, Nate, if I'm alone in having one of these. We’re scouring our neighborhood for Hostess Sno Balls.

"No," says Nate. "Never happened to me. I ate everything."

But what about a childhood food crush? Not quite a memory of eating, but rather the memory of a food-infatuation that's significant only for the fact that it's remained unfulfilled for so many decades?

You might remember Hostess Sno Balls if you, like me, clocked every pair you ever passed. Lining the shelves of the checkout line at King Kullen while you helped your dad pack a brown paper bag with bunches of spinach so limp, surely they must’ve been mocking you. Tucked away in the interstices of a gas station you passed through on an endless road trip. Behind the counter of a convenience store you ducked into, in search of quarters, so you could hit “start” on your last load at the laundromat across the street.

Photo by Ella Quittner

For the uninitiated, Sno Balls are pillowy semi-spheres of chocolate cake filled with creamy white frosting, coated in marshmallow, and rolled around in flaked coconut. Sometimes they're white, like an actual snowball—but more often, you'll see the fluorescent pink ones, bright and plush as something a Lisa Frank unicorn might toss to another unicorn, who in turn might spear it playfully with a glitter-covered horn. (“Food dye,” says Nate darkly, when I show him a photo.) To my young eye, having inspected several packages at close range, Sno Balls appeared to be desire incarnate. They reeled me in with their dramatic flair and soft, cakey composition, and they kept me interested with the promise of multiple types of frosting.

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Top Comment:
“I loved Raspberry Zingers, which are similar to Sno-Balls in that they are cream filled cakes topped with a coconut frosting, but the cake was yellow and so soft and tender, and the frosting so sweet and tangy. Sigh. Kind of like a frosted jelly roll. I'm sure they wouldn't measure up to my sweet, sweet memories!”
— Rebecca K.
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So, why did I never try one? When I ask my parents if they recall telling me that I couldn't, they profess ignorance. "Hm. Doesn't sound like us," they say. And I suppose it doesn’t. These are the people who looked on passively as I ate an entire package of ramen, plus a chocolate-covered cherry, for breakfast every day in my middle school years.

Hostess did declare bankruptcy and briefly stopped producing Sno Balls in 2012—“But due to widespread consumer outcry, this was followed by the ‘Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever,’ when the brand was revived and our beloved product returned to store shelves in 2013,” Keith Peterfeso, Hostess’ Brand Director for All Day Snacking (yes, real title), writes to me.

So it seems more plausible—especially when one (me, typing iPhone notes, on the subway) factors in the intervening years of my independent adulthood—that this abstinence has been largely self-imposed. That I, a child, then teen, then adult who draws so much comfort and joy from food, subconsciously constructed a sort of personal Wuthering Heights scenario. (I’m Catherine Earnshaw, the Sno Balls are Heathcliff, and our timing’s never been quite right—keep up!) Perhaps I needed some edible Chimera to propel me forward in my pursuit of food exploration, until I found my calling (more chocolate cakes). Or perhaps, like any other unrealized crush, it has ebbed and flowed in the background of my psyche over time, only resurfacing when the universe sends me reminders.

It does feel fitting that, when I finally decide it’s time to try these cakes, I’m unable to find a single package in any of the grocery stores I comb. It’s the eve of my 28th birthday, and I’d been hoping to hold the tasting on the date itself—but what’s a few more days, after a lifetime? I place an online order for what looks like two Sno Balls, but turns out to be two dozen. (The hot pink variety.)

It doesn’t occur to me until they arrive that there’s a chance I’ll hate them. I make and eat all sorts of baked goods for my job, now. It’s possible these ones won’t blow me away like they absolutely would’ve two decades ago, when I would ration myself one Reese’s cup a day from a hidden two-pound sack under my bed. (Siblings, if you're reading this: keep out.)

But, as I gingerly poke one of the Sno Ball's springy, marshmallowy exterior, I’m reminded of something a friend told me a few years ago, right after I made a seemingly impossible decision: “Now, you can finally start enjoying your life.” She wasn’t referring to a stand-off with a Hostess cake, but I figure all good advice is transferable.

The Sno Ball’s marshmallow coat springs back at me, albeit a little more slowly than you’d imagine. I tear into it. At first bite, it’s pretty satisfying—the chocolate cake is lightly salty, and drier than I’d expected. The coconut flakes are unsweetened, aiding in the sugar-balance. If I had one point of constructive criticism, it’d be about the marshmallow-to-cream-filling ratio. (I’m team More Cream Filling, always.)

And it feels both significant and utterly meaningless at the same time. Will I ever again delay pursuit of something little that might make me happy? Of course. Will everything that might bring me joy change my life? Of course not.

“Want one?” I ask Nate. “I’ve got 23 extras.”

“I’m… good.” he says.

More for me. I grab a second Sno Ball, flip it over, and jab a spoon right into its center, to eat the cream filling first.


Do you have any unfulfilled childhood food crushes? Let me know in the comments.

41 Comments

Lucy B. March 13, 2019
I am a deconstructor. Also took the Yodels apart in a ritualistic ceremony. But after reading all of these it appears I am the only one who liked to remove the entire coconut coating from the Sno-ball in one piece and save it for after the chocolate "cake" and "cream" (lard). Haven't had one in years, but of course I want one now.
 
Rebecca K. March 9, 2019
I loved Raspberry Zingers, which are similar to Sno-Balls in that they are cream filled cakes topped with a coconut frosting, but the cake was yellow and so soft and tender, and the frosting so sweet and tangy. Sigh. Kind of like a frosted jelly roll. I'm sure they wouldn't measure up to my sweet, sweet memories!
 
Anne K. March 8, 2019
Just read other comments and reminded of other junk favorites. I was particularly delighted when my then about 7-year-old grandson shared that he, too, loved Cheetos! Talk about food coloring!
PS to my previous comment - I hadn’t thought of eating Sno Balls from the bottom up, to get the cream filling. That experiment may be my excuse to have one (or two, since that’s clearly intended by the packaging).
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 8, 2019
It's game-changing!
 
Anne K. March 8, 2019
I absolutely adore Hostess Sno-Balls! I must have had them once or twice as a kid, had a period of regular indulgence as an adult and now just look at them longingly. Only the white ones tho - while food coloring is only joining other less-than-perfectly-nutritious ingredients, the seasonal colored ones don’t appeal. They’re called Sno-Balls, amma right? It IS a little peculiar how long that marshmallow layer stays fresh as long as they’re sealed up (never a problem once opened) but who cares?
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 8, 2019
So true about the marshmallow layer...
 
Allison March 8, 2019
Snowballs - no. Twinkies and Cupcakes - YES! FYI: in the Drakes world, loved Yodels, Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, its Brooklyn home was catycorner from the original home of Sweet 'N Low.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 8, 2019
Yes to Yodels!!!
 
asbrink March 8, 2019
A nostalgic childhood staple was Sara Lee pound cakes in those foil loaf pan containers, with the cardboard lids. My parents found them in the freezer section and, in classic immigrant style, having no idea what a pound cake was meant to be, we kept them in the freezer ate them that way.

I haven't had it as an adult! I think at this point, the memory is more important than figuring out if I still like them or not.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 8, 2019
Such fond memories of Sara Lee pound cakes, too!
 
Donna D. March 7, 2019
Ah Sno-Balls, how do I love thee let me count the ways. No school field trip would have been complete without a stop at the local deli to get my tuna on rye with lettuce sandwich, Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, Fresca and SNO-BALLS!!! My mother was always so grossed out. LOL
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 8, 2019
You're making me want to run out for a deli sandwich (and chips!) right this second...
 
Sharon R. March 7, 2019
Thought I always loved a dipped cone from Dairy Queen. Somehow, as an adult, their goodness isn't the same. Are the ingredients worse now? Or do my grownup taste buds reject the waxy weirdness?
 
Bobby S. March 7, 2019
I was never a fan. The coating (yep, pretty waxy) fell off after a bite or two. If only they could invent a coating that isn't hard. And has flavour. :)
 
sawdustdrivein March 6, 2019
Sno-Balls were one of my favorites, I liked them after they had been refrigerated.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 6, 2019
I loved to freeze my Reeses!
 
Steven W. March 5, 2019
Along the line of Hostess, my wife and her best friend were die hard Ring Ding fans, (Yes I know Drakes makes Ring Dings, but stay with me here!) so much so that when my wife was pregnant and her birthday rolled around, I used a Ring Ding as a pregnant belly for her birthday cake.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 6, 2019
Sounds adorable!!!
 
Anne S. March 5, 2019
Ahhh, Sno-Balls... I loved them in college because they were exactly the kind of food that wasn’t allowed in my parents house. I was particularly fond of the orange ones...
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 6, 2019
My main college snack was (unsurprisingly) peanut butter. In all forms, all the time.
 
Amy L. March 5, 2019
Loved this article! And now finding the urge to go buy a Yodel, my favorite snack cake which I ate by cracking off the chocolate first, unrolling the cake, eating the cream filling and then throwing the dry chocolate cake away!
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 5, 2019
Thank you, Amy! I love that technique. As a kid, I used to occasionally peel even grapes...
 
Steven W. March 5, 2019
Just be aware Yodels are by Drakes!
 
HalfPint March 4, 2019
My crush on Sno-Balls goes back to elementary school. Not sure who brought them, but I loved them. LOVED. THEM. Then I went a decade without eating one (not sure why, maybe the no-sugar propaganda got to me). Then in college, I had them again and well, they weren't as good as I remembered. Just really sweet and so disappointing. I chalked it up to Hostess changing the recipe. I was so crushed, I haven't had one in the last 15 years :(
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 4, 2019
Maybe it's time for a revisit! (Or to make a homemade, less sweet version...)
 
Eric K. March 4, 2019
Everything tastes better in the past.
 
Sandy K. March 7, 2019
I honestly thought this article was going to be about you coming up with your own -- better -- version of Sno-Balls.
 
BJ March 4, 2019
After reading this, I'm leaving work early (now) to go get some Sno Balls. 😋
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 4, 2019
I fully support that!
 
Maggie S. March 4, 2019
Ella, this is so good. If only Emily Bronte could appreciate your reference with a Sno Ball in hand.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 4, 2019
Thank you, Maggie! So glad you tasted one today!
 
Eric K. March 4, 2019
"...something a Lisa Frank unicorn might toss to another unicorn..."

I loved that. I've actually never had one myself!
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 4, 2019
I have a feeling you're going to love them...
 
Eric K. March 4, 2019
OK, reporting back: I just ate one and liked it a lot. Reminded me of a moon pie / one of those packaged chocolate cupcakes with the white squiggly frosting.
 
Bobby S. March 7, 2019
Twinkies?
 
Sam March 4, 2019
Loved your article. Snowballs are one of my all time favorite snacks. My wife and kids think I’m crazy.
However, my one true food crush is Jack in the box tacos. Potentially the greatest thing ever. I’ve planned road trips specifically around stops at a jack in the box since they no longer have them
In Michigan.
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 4, 2019
Thanks Sam! Glad to find a kindred snack spirit. I love that, re: road trips—how I travel, too.
 
TXExpatInBKK March 7, 2019
My high school boyfriend had a serious Jack In The Box taco addiction!!! Memories...
 
BG N. March 4, 2019
Would love Shoo Fly Pie from Lancaster PA
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. March 4, 2019
Sounds so excellent.
 
Angela R. March 4, 2019
Shoo Fly Pies from Achenbachs in Leola, PA are the best and not far from Lancaster. You also need to get a pecan ring while you're there!