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. And 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. Accustomed to rationing flour and sugar during World World War II, Americans were now 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 contribute 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 in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces.
Although Sno Balls still turn heads after all these years, I’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.