When Sbraga Dining pastry chef Marqessa Gesualdi was growing up in Bucks County, her grandma used to thrill her by baking snowballs cakes. With colorful coconut on a sticky-sweet marshmallow frosting surrounding a chocolate angel food cake center spiked with buttercream icing, the glittery dessert was a little girl’s dream.

Now that she’s a professional baker, Gesualdi calls on those memories often. Earlier this year, she turned her grandma’s dessert into variously-flavored layer cakes served as specials at Kevin Sbraga’s West Philly restaurant, The Fat Ham. More recently, she miniaturized it to create a copycat of a Tastykake for Billy Penn.

If you’ve never had the Tastykake Snowballs, know this about them: They may be pretty, but they taste and feel like plastic. Try to pull one apart and it’s like tugging at elastic. (Seriously. It took five tries to get it to pull apart evenly in the intro to the video below).

On the flip side, Gesualdi’s version of the snowballs could hardly be more delicious. The chocolate cake is super-rich, but also fluffy and light. The buttercream is as creamy as its name implies, and the marshmallow frosting is ethereal instead of tough. Here’s how you can make them yourself — you even get to pick your own color for the coconut sprinkles.

YouTube video

Snowballs by Marqessa Gesualdi of Sbraga Dining

Chocolate Cake

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
1¼ cup hot water
¼ cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk. Pour in the eggs, oil and hot water and whisk until thoroughly combined. Portion into cupcake papers and bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. After completely cooled, hollow out the center of each so it can be filled with icing later.

Buttercream Icing

½ stick soft butter
½ cup shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp evaporated milk

Paddle the butter and shortening in the mixer. Add powdered sugar in, ¼ cup at a time. Add vanilla extract and evaporated milk and paddle until smooth. Place the finished icing into a pastry back or a zip top bag and pipe into the centers of cooled, hollowed chocolate cupcakes. Set aside.

Marshmallow Frosting

1 1/8 cups sugar
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp corn syrup
4 egg whites
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 Tbsp powdered gelatin
3 Tbsp hot water

Combine sugar, water and corn syrup in a saucepot on a stove and begin to heat on medium heat. Combine powdered gelatin and hot water in a small bowl and allow to soak. While the ingredients in the saucepot are cooking, begin to whip the egg whites on medium speed, along with salt and cream of tartar. Cook the sugar syrup in the sauce pot to 240 degrees and remove from heat.

Turn the mixer speed to low and begin to pour the sugar syrup directly down the inside of the bowl into the slowly whipping egg whites, being careful to pour slowly in a steady stream. Once all of the sugar syrup is in, return the mixer speed back up to medium and continue to whip the egg white mixture. Melt the soaked gelatin and turn the mixer speed to low. Pour the melted gelatin into the whipping whites. Continue to whip the marshmallow until it is completely cooled. Set aside.

Colored Coconut

1 cup shredded coconut
Food coloring of choice

Combine coconut and food color in a container, covered and sealed with a lid. Shake until coconut is completely colored throughout.


Flatten out a fresh cupcake paper. Remove paper from chocolate cupcake. Use hands to shape cupcake into a spherical shape. Spoon and spread the marshmallow, covering the outside of the inverted chocolate cupcake. Sprinkle coconut all over the marshmallow on the cupcake. Place in the fridge to set for approximately 30 minutes. After set, remove from the fridge to eat.

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.