Last year, Dr. O’s grandmother gave me a folder full of holiday meal suggestions and recipes from various magazines from the late ’60s and early ’70s. (How fun, right?) The folder has a little bit of everything – drinks, appetizers, mains, sides, and desserts (along with some great holiday hairstyle ideas, hehe!) – so I thought I’d see if I could find something to add to my dinner party menu for next weekend. One dish that really jumped out at me was a 1969 Good Housekeeping recipe for Bourbon Balls… It was short, sweet, and good for making ahead, so I decided to give it a try.
There are several ingredients that need to be finely chopped, so I used my mini food processor quite a bit. If you don’t have a food processor or chopper, the recipe is definitely still “doable.” It just might not be quite as fun or easy.
First, I ground handfuls of vanilla wafers in my food processor to yield 2 1/2 cups of ground wafers. (The recipe says they should be finely crushed, so banging them in a Ziploc with a rolling pin could be a decent alternative.) I transferred the ground wafers to a large bowl. Next, I used the food processor to finely chop 1 cup of walnuts. I transferred those to the bowl as well.
To the mixture in the bowl, I added 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of baking cocoa, 1/3 cup of bourbon, and 3 tablespoons of corn syrup. I stirred the mixture until everything was well incorporated and then hand-rolled the mixture into 1-inch balls. (Each ball was about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and the recipe makes about 36.) To finish them off, I rolled the balls in granulated sugar.
My friend Christopher absolutely loved these, but I have to say… These Good Housekeeping people must have really loved boozy candy back in 1969. Holy smokes! The bourbon flavor is pretty strong, and you get shot-like warmth as they head down the hatch. (If you’ve already had a fair share of “holiday cheer,” you might not feel it as much, but wow.)
I actually made them again the next day, cut down on the bourbon, and incorporated a bit of coffee and vanilla as “replacement liquid.” I think my adaptation will be more of a crowd pleaser. I really love the idea of this recipe, though, and the candies are just so pretty and festive with the sparkly sugar coating.
TIPS: The first time I made the recipe, my mixture was a bit dry and I had a hard time rolling it into balls. If this happens, just add more liquid (corn syrup, bourbon, or whatever, really), mix until it’s well incorporated, and try again.
UPDATE (12/10/09): I’ve been discussing this recipe with a friend lately and I thought it would be good give you my exact recommended breakdown for the liquid. Instead of 1/3 cup of bourbon, I recommend using 3 tablespoons of bourbon, 2 tablespoons of coffee, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. That way, you’ll still get the bourbon flavor without the burn. If you still think the flavor is too strong, go with 3 tablespoons of coffee, 2 tablespoons of bourbon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.