People in Boston always seem to be surprised by my affinity to bourbon. Maybe it’s not a girly drink, but I grew up in a town that borders Kentucky, which is all about bourbon. This includes the delightful treat known as a bourbon ball, which people frequently get as stocking stuffers around the holidays. The first time I heard about these was in middle school when my best friend swore she managed to get drunk from eating a box of these. So when I make these, I am very heavy-handed with the bourbon.
I also know from my previous experiences that Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Balls are the most renowned, but they end up costing around $50 with shipping to Boston. What makes those bourbon balls great, though, is their rich, buttercream-frosting-like filling. Even though the company uses a cheaper Kentucky Bourbon (Evan Williams), these treats are absolutely decadent.
The basic premise of a good bourbon ball is the buttercream filling. I don’t believe in the recipes that call for vanilla wafers, which make it easier to shape the filling but detract from their richness. Instead of vanilla wafers, I like to finely chop pecans and mix them with the filling. Even though the pure buttercream ends up being incredibly difficult and messy, it’s totally worth it. Here’s how I made my bourbon balls.
• 1 stick of butter (room temperature)
• 2.5–4 cups of powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you want them)
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 2/3 cup of raw pecans
• 1/2 cup of bourbon
Finely chop the pecans; feel free to use a food processor. Soak the pecans in bourbon overnight. Mix the sugar, butter, and vanilla until the mixture reaches a smooth consistency. Using a food mixer will make this process easier as well. Then, add the bourbon-pecan mixture to the buttercream. Leave the filling in the fridge for several hours until it thickens and hardens enough to be moldable. Form into 1–2 inch balls. (If the filling is moist and soft, the balls turn into blobs, which doesn’t work.) Once the balls are formed, store them in the freezer, either on wax paper or in plastic bags for at least four hours, preferably overnight.
• 4–8 ounces of Ghirardelli 60-percent cacao baking chocolate (You can use any baking chocolate; I just prefer the taste of darker chocolate.)
• 12–20 pecan halves for garnish
If you don’t have a double boiler, melt the chocolate in three-ounce batches in the microwave on 50 -percent heat, stirring every minute until smooth. You can also set up your own double boiler by placing a smaller pot over a larger pot filled with water. Set the balls of filling on a fork (without piercing them), and dip each ball individually into the melted chocolate. Garnish with a pecan half. Place on wax paper to harden, and once all the chocolates have been dipped, place them in the fridge or freezer to help them set. It’s important for the chocolate to be warm the whole time filling is being dipped in it, or else the chocolates end up lumpy and ugly. My suggestion is to work in small increments and keep the other buttercream fillings frozen before dipping.
This recipe ends up making 12–20 bourbon balls, depending on what diameter you make your chocolates. It took me two hours to make them after I had the chilled buttercream filling because I was a novice to chocolate confectionery. You can also make this recipe with other liquors like rum, but then the pecans won’t pair as well.