The Gift of War does not have to be all bitterness and gall. It can have a warm, sweetly nutty flavor as well! One of my favorite cookies is the Bourbon Ball, and I cannot think of anything (other than fruit cake) that seems more 19th century than these delectable bites of Confederate goodness.
There is a serious warning to be given here, however. BEWARE CANDY MASQUERADING AS COOKIES!!! Bourbon balls are cookies. The main ingredient is . . . cookies. Bourbon balls are not–I repeat NOT–bourbon-flavored fondant covered with chocolate and topped with a pecan. Those are something else. They taste great, but they are something else. We are talking real, true, Kentucky Bourbon, Bourbon Balls. (Rebel Yell inserted here).
Basically, a Bourbon Ball is made from nuts (Georgia pecans, preferably), vanilla wafers, cocoa, powdered sugar, corn syrup and Kentucky bourbon. They are not cooked. They are stored in a sealed container for days, fermenting into a delicious chocolaty, boozy, nutty concoction that is just as much a thrill to the other senses as it is to that of taste. They smell like Heaven, if Heaven includes a stiff drink upon occasion.
They look like artisan truffles, lightly coated in powdered sugar, or cocoa, or regular sugar, or finely ground pecans, or even dipped into a chocolate coating. No matter what they are coated with, they should look rough, home made, textural and dark.
Bourbon balls for the holidays are a staple at my home, a tradition from my family passed down from ancestors that included a few notable Confederates. Back then, of course, there were no ‘Nilla Wafers in a yellow box to be had. Vanilla wafers were made at home from butter, sugar, milk, an egg, flour, baking powder, salt and, of course, vanilla. There is a good recipe here: http://www.wikihow.com/Bake-Vanilla-Wafers.
From there, the other ingredients were added. Pecans are another traditional Southern delicacy. A large box of Papershell Pecans, already cracked, would arrive from an aunt in Georgia, and it was my job to shell them by Thanksgiving for both the fruitcakes and the Bourbon Balls. Note: pecans stain the hands of children!
The finale for making these cookies comes when the bourbon is added. Even if you do not drink, real bourbon is a treat to be savored. Bourbon is a barrel-aged distilled spirit made from corn. The name “bourbon” comes from the French monarchy, the Bourbon dynasty, but it is unknown whether American bourbon was so named because it was distilled in Bourbon County, Kentucky or drunk on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Personally, I think the Kentucky version of the legend is true. After all, the street might actually be named for the drink! Good bourbon is a delight for the eyes. Its amber or chestnut color is distinctive, as is its scent. It is not a dark scent, but light and woody, and very alcoholic. Bourbons pick up the flavors of the wood in which they were cured, and craft bourbons abound today in Kentucky and elsewhere.
Some think that using the drink for cookies is a waste of booze. Obviously they are not Bourbon Ball aficionados. Chocolate and bourbon were made for each other. It is the unique nature of the bourbon itself that demands the cookies be put away for a week or so after they are made. They continue to “distill” within each delicious morsel of nuts and crumbs, and the new flavor that emerges is an ironic mix of strong and delicate. I love Bourbon Balls.
It is more difficult to buy them than one might think. First, there is an abundance of those faux bourbon balls that are really just bourbon candy. Don’t even bother with them. Just don’t. Almost everything I found on line is bourbon-flavored candy. What a disappointment. The real deal is difficult to come by. Try http://www.victoriantradingco.com/item/35-cy-3516150/100100101/a-pound-of-kentucky-bourbon-balls. I love these, but they are often out of stock, as they are hand made. Etsy has some interesting possibilities as well. https://www.etsy.com/listing/63213771/real-kentucky-bourbon-balls-one-dozen?ref=sr_gallery_2&ga_search_query=bourbon+balls&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery are wonderful ones, and come from Texas. Miss Bryt will make them to order, and is a pleasure to deal with. Again, read carefully! Many of the ones on Etsy are candy, not cookies.
Sometimes it is better just to do it yourself. This may be one of those times, especially since food processors make the whole chopping experience much easier. Here is my favorite recipe.
1 cup pecans
8 ounces vanilla wafers, enough to make 2 cups
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
1 cup powdered sugar, divided
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup bourbon–I use a gourmet Jack Daniels
In a food processor, chop the vanilla wafers into crumbs. Add the pecans and process just until they are finely chopped. In a medium bowl, mix together the crumb-pecan mixture, 1/4 cup of the cocoa, and 1/4 cup of the confectioners’ sugar. Add the corn syrup and bourbon. Mix thoroughly. Sift the remaining 1/4 cup cocoa and 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar onto a large plate. Form the crumb mixture into 3/4-inch balls and roll them through the cocoa-sugar to coat. Store in a sealed container for up to 5 days. If necessary, touch them up with a light dusting of the remaining confectioners’ sugar.
At any point in this recipe, two fingers of bourbon may be poured into a heavy old fashioned glass, over about 3 cubes of good ice. “Good ice” is liquor store-purchased ice, not tap water ice. It is clear, dense, and melts slowly. The bourbon may be consumed as the cookies are made.
Best Civil War gift ever!
Definitely 5 Minié balls!