It’s the holidays, for sure.


Originally uploaded by themiliones

I had a bourbon ball maybe three or four years ago in Boise for the first time. I was surprised for many reasons, namely because they were shared with me so nonchalantly, “Here have a bourbon ball!”

Of course these little, chocolate confections blew my mind. These balls are a mixture of nilla wafers, pecans, corn syrup, confectioners sugar, cocoa and bourbon. Obviously the bourbon is the gel in this recipe.

You do not bake them or heat them in any way as this causes the bourbon to evaporate. In fact, you must roll the balls in the cocoa and powdered sugar mixture (pictured) just to keep the bourbon inside and not evaporating.


So they originated in Kentucky from one woman, Ruth Hanley Booe, who ran a candy store, although it is clear to me that my recipe is very, very different from this woman’s.

The first article I found was written by one of her grandsons: Apparently Ruth got the idea from a Kentucky official who enjoyed the flavor of nibbling on some chocolate and then taking a few sips of bourbon. Sounds like a great combination to me, too!

Her grandson Martin Booe mentions that the center of these bourbon balls are cream filled. Also Martin says that she was written about in both Gourmet and the NYTimes. I decided to seek out these recipes to see if I could track the origins.

Also worth mentioning is that the inventor of the bourbon ball only created these after Prohibition ended, making it easier to track down.

Indeed, recipes are mentioned for the Kentucky Pull Cream, something I’d never heard of. Pull cream involves boiling whole milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and salt to 250 degrees and then “pulling it” on a giant marble slab.

Before you let it cool you need to wrap it in chocolate. Of course the bourbon version is not published, and I’m certain it’s a secret recipe.

Apparently they were originally called Kentucky Colonels. Jane Nickerson of the NY Times describes them arriving by mail order, “When you take the lid of the box that bourbon odor floats out and you wonder whether someone has mailed you a highball.”

In an interesting twist, by August of 1959 the recipe for Bourbon Balls was published with the article title, “Fit for a Kentucky Colonel.” The recipe in this article is very similar to the one I use. Below is my recipe. I place the bourbon balls into little boxes to share or to keep for our own enjoyment. 

Bourbon Balls

Pulse one box of vanilla wafers in a food processor. Put in bowl and set aside.

Pulse a cup and a half of pecan pieces in a food processor. Put in a bowl and set aside.

Mix in a larger bowl 1/4 cup light corn syrup, 2 T cocoa, 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, and 1/3 cup bourbon. Mix thoroughly.

Add 2 1/2 cups vanilla wafers (crushed) and 1 cup pecans (crushed).

Mix thoroughly. Roll the dough into balls and then roll quickly on a plate in a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and cocoa. Put into boxes and enjoy or give to loved ones!

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