Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Bourbon Balls

(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.


Ines said...

Thanks for the recipe!
I'm looking for new alternatives to Christmas cookies (cakes, balls or whatever sweet thing is made for Christmas) so I definitely want to try this one.
I'm just not completely sure what type of cookies am I supposed to use but I'm guessing anything that can be finely crumbled. :)

Olfacta said...

Hi Ines -- I'm not sure what's available in your country, but any plain cookie would do -- "shortbread" is cookie dough (better, sugar, etc) like sugar cookies. If there isn't any vanilla in the shortbread, add a little to the crumbs, maybe 2 mls or so.

queen_cupcake said...

Nice recipe--thank you! I used to make a version with dark rum and ginger snap cookies instead of the vanilla wafers. Just as deadly but I haven't made them in years. Perhaps I'll make your recipe with the bourbon. If I start now, they'll be pretty good by New Year's. I never liked fruitcake as a kid. This year, I made chocolate fruitcake. We'll see how it turned out after it has soaked in triple sec a few more days.

Ines said...

Olfacta, thank you for the clarification. :) Can I just add another question? Can I use maple syrup instead of corn (I have that one at home so that's why I'm asking).

Olfacta said...

Hi Ines -- I'm not sure that maple syrup would be sticky enough to hold the dough together. It might be if you cooked it down to make it thicker (and then cooled it). The syrup needs to be about as thick as honey. But it would impart the maple flavor -- if I was to use it, I'd make these with rum, which I think would be a better "match" in flavor.

Carrie Meredith said...

These sound amazing! I'm so NOT a baker or a cook, I don't have any of the staples that most people have in their kitchens. But maybe I should think about changing that for the new year. I want to be the Bourbon Ball hero of my building.

ScentScelf said...

Queen Cupcake adds rumballs to up the ante...love it...I'll be rolling balls of various types soon.

{go ahead, snigger...}

After posting a nearly lethally long comment on your previous post (didn't think it was going to make it through Captcha), may I merely say here that once upon a time I started a descent down the rabbit hole of cocktail culture before I was pulled up short by the olfactory experience of SIP Black Rosette? The curiosity didn't go away, however, it was just pushed aside...and can come out at times...

...which means that someday I'm going on a road trip down the Bourbon trail. (Discussed among other places in Imbibe magazine.) A REAL road trip, I mean. For now, a snort of Maker's Mark will do fine for Point A. :)