(Last week’s discussion about the cost of perfume (“Sore Subject”) turned out to be much more comprehensive than I’d imagined! Thanks, all of you commenters out there, for your very interesting and well thought-out remarks.)
This week, I was going to give readers an erudite and accurate look at the history of one of my region’s finest products, Bourbon whiskey, to go with a favorite Christmas recipe. Until I started researching this morning, that is. (I might have known there would be disagreements amongst booze historians.) So that’s another post, another day. Here’s what I know: it’s made in Kentucky, or should be, and has a legal definition involving the percentage of corn used -- 50% or thereabouts -- used to make it.
I do know that good Bourbon has a beautifully complex and unmistakable bouquet. I can’t drink much of it, because all dark liquors give me migraines, but I can make a favorite Christmas confection with it, which I do on Christmas Eve.
In traditional Southern households, “dropping by,” or visiting, takes place on Christmas day, in the afternoon. Food and drink are part of the ritual, including the serving of Aunt Mary’s fruitcake, the jokes about Aunt Mary’s fruitcake, and these, the perfect alternative. In this way, you can experience two of the best things about Christmas in the South -- good whiskey and even better treats.
This recipe uses Vanilla Wafers, a packaged cookie (“biscuit” to those of you in the U.K.) but any shortbread can be substituted. Pecans are traditionally Southern for baking but if you don’t have them, use whatever unsalted nuts you do have. Any sweet and sticky syrup could be substituted for the Karo, as it is simply the glue that holds the dough together. Any decent Bourbon will do, but the better the whiskey, the better these taste. And if you absolutely have to, it’s OK to use dark rum instead of Bourbon.
Classic Southern Bourbon Balls
3 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (about 1 box) or shortbread crumbs, crushed thoroughly
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1/2 to 3/4 cup good Bourbon whiskey
3 tablespoons light corn syrup (“Karo” in the U.S.)
salt, if desired
In a large bowl, combine the crumbs, pecans, cocoa, 1 cup confectioners' sugar, bourbon, corn syrup and a dash of salt, if desired. This will make a stiff dough. Mix until well combined.
Spread the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar on a flat surface. Take spoonfuls of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls, using hands, wet if necessary. Roll each ball in confectioners' sugar.
Chill several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Makes 5 dozen.
Maker's Mark Bourbon photo from Google images. May be subject to copyright.