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Kentucky Bourbon Balls

Today I finished the Bourbon Balls I promised many months ago. They were a long time coming. I put off making them and then never found the recipe I was looking for, the one I tried some years ago that made a creamy centered Bourbon Ball like the ones from Rebecca Ruth Candies.

I did find a recipe for chocolate dipped Bourbon Balls filled with crunchy pecan bits. It came from "The Bourbon Book," a book I bought in Bardstown, Kentucky many years ago. I made them and, though they are quite delicious, they failed to satisfy as they were not quite what I was looking for. Finally I gave up looking through my files and cookbooks for that one particular recipe I remembered and began to search for something similar on-line.

At last I turned up a recipe that sounded right. At Chowhound I found a recipe for Kentucky Style (Rebecca Ruth) Bourbon Balls. Knowing the writer was satisfied with this recipe for that same luscious Kentucky confection that I craved, I gave it a try. The result was just the thing I was looking for: butter soft, sweet and creamy with a distinct bourbon bite. Enrobed in dark chocolate and topped with a fresh pecan half these Bourbon Ball were a perfect taste of home.

Kentucky Style Bourbon Balls
from Chowhound.chow.com

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
5 Tablespoons bourbon (Chowhound recommends Knob Creek brand)

Combine softened butter and powdered sugar until smooth.

Add bourbon and mix until incorporated.

Refrigerate the mixture for 1 hour.

Form the buttercream into 1 inch balls and place on waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm.

Transfer buttercream centers to a Ziploc freezer bag and freeze for several hours or overnight.

Dip in chocolate coating. (See Below)

Old Kentucky Bourbon Balls
adapted from "The Book of Bourbon", p325

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb confectioners' sugar
3 Tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely ground pecans

Combined softened butter and confectioners' sugar until smooth.

Add the bourbon and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

Add the nuts and mix thoroughly.

Roll the candy into 1-inch balls. Set in refrigerator until firm, then transfer to a Ziploc freezer bag and place in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.

Chocolate Coating
(for either center prepared above)

4 to 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
30 -50 whole pecan halves, for garnish

Place a toothpick in each bourbon ball, sticking the toothpick into the center.

Melt chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave or a double boiler. Mix and heat until smooth.

Working quickly, dip the bourbon ball centers into the chocolate one at a time. Tap the toothpick against the side of the bowl to shake off excess chocolate. Set the coated bourbon ball on waxed paper covering a baking sheet or pizza pan. With another toothpick push the bourbon ball gently from the toothpick and cover the spot where it was with a pecan half.

When all bourbon balls have been dipped allow them to rest until set. (To speed the process the pan of bourbon balls can be placed in the refrigerator.) When set, transfer the candies to a holiday tin or other storage container.


Anonymous said...

OMG, those look BEYOND decadent! I've never actually had bourbon before--but hey, who cares? I'll take some of those!

Cathy said...

Oh, wow! These look fantastic. I love the combination of butter and bourbon. And the chopped nuts too, of course.

Mary Bergfeld said...

These look incredibly good! Your photo is so good that I want to reach out and grab one of your bourbon balls.

grace said...

look at those innards! i knew there was some reason i always liked kentucky. :)

Robin Sue said...

These sound like a winners to me. What a perfect gift to make and give. I think I even have some bourbon around here somewhere!

Unknown said...

I grew up on a farm outside of Springield, KY, just 22 miles from Bardstown, with these as one of our traditional Christmas candies.

Instead of pecans, my mother used black walnuts we'd gathered earlier in the fall and spread in the driveway to run over again and again to remove the outer husks. She'd soak the chopped nuts overnight in bourbon, drain, and then, mix into the fondant mixture. She also dipped them in dark chocolate.

She'd also make divinity w/ black walnuts, so we'd kind of have the positive-negative thing going on the candy dish.

So glad I found this recipe!

Wonderful memories!

JohnAnderson said...

I really enjoyed this recipe as well as some others you have on this blog. Very well done, I even linked your blog from one of my Hubpages.

I just couldn't resist! lol.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Looked high and low for the bourbon ball recipe my mom used to make couldn't find in any of my recipes. Finally started an internet search and could only find bourbon balls made with wafers (yuck). Here I found the recipe with a few exceptions. My mom always took the pecans and let them soak in the bourbon before adding to the sugar and butter (usually for 24 hr), she always used Maker's Mark, and for the true bourbon lover's she'd shoot a small amount of whiskey into the center with a syringe. Thanks so much for posting the recipe. I am going to make several copies in case I lose it again.
Nancy, Jupiter FL

Pamela said...

Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I too love the Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls that every distillery in KY sells (under their own name of course, but they're all made by RR). I live in Portland, but go to Kentucky most summers to visit family, and I always intend to buy bourbon balls to give out to friends, but they never seem to quite make it past the plane ride.

I'll try your recipe and hopefully have enough left when I'm through indulging to share.

Lisa said...

I made this recipe again, in large quantity, this past Christmas. They really are a treat and hold up well for several weeks. I wish I had some of the hickory nuts mentioned by Lydia to give them an authentic regional twist. That sounds delightful. And soaking the nuts, if you plan to include them in the filling, sounds like a great idea to boost the bourbon flavor.

Thanks for all of your comments. I love the memories and the enthusiasm!

Anonymous said...

I tried making these last night, using the (RR inspired recipe). I refrigerated the mix, however I cannot get it to firm up enough to roll into balls. Hmm...I wonder what I did wrong. Any thoughts? I took 3 1/2 cups powder sugar, 1/2 cup room temp butter and blended until smooth. Then I added 5 Tbsp bourbon and blended. Then I placed in the fridge. Well, it's been 18 hours and the mix is still too soft to roll into balls. PLEASE HELP!


Lisa said...

This recipe does make a very soft filling. I seriously doubt that you did anything wrong. Rolling the centers can be messy. Maybe these ideas will help:

You might try putting the filling in the freezer for a while. You don't want to freeze it at this stage but the colder the better.

Try using a small cookie dough scoop (mine is about 1.25 inches wide) to portion the filling mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. This gives it a rounded shape to begin with. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator or freezer for a while. Then quickly roll each portion into a ball with powdered sugar coated hands. You can also dust the balls with powdered sugar just before rolling if needed. Then place them in the Ziploc bag in the freezer as directed. You might also want to roll them in powdered sugar again before dipping in the chocolate coating. On the whole, it would amount to treating them much like the ganache described in this post for Vanilla Chile Truffles ( http://www.myownsweetthyme.com/2008/02/vanilla-chile-truffles.html ) but using powdered sugar rather than cocoa powder.

Another possibility would be to add more powdered sugar to the mixture before rolling. Most other recipes I've seen call for about 1 pound of confectioners sugar per 1/2 cup butter and about 1/4 cup bourbon. One pound of confectioners sugar can measure out to as much as 4 cups. That would indicate that adding more to this recipe won't hurt anything but it will result in a firmer filling for the finished candy. I love the centers to be as soft as possible, so add more sugar gradually. That said, no matter how much you feel you need to add I believe they will still turn out well. Next time, you could also make a firmer mixture by decreasing the amount of bourbon used by a Tablespoon or two.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the advice...I'll ty adding a little more sugar. Less BOURBON?!?!?! Heavens NO! HA HA HA, I wouldn't dream of LESS :-)

Betty said...

I am making bourbon balls for the first time after having some at a friend's house. The ones they had looked different as the filling seemed more cake like, but these look like what I ended up with using the recipe I located. I soaked the chopped nuts overnight and then mixed the butter/powdered sugar this morning and added the nuts. Instead of rolling the filling into balls, I used my Pampered Chef small scoop (like an ice cream scoop that you squeeze to release the filling) and made it into 24 balls (exactly what the recipe said it should make). They set up well in the refrigerator and are now ready to be dipped into the chocolate...just have to do that final step and then sample! I can't wait to try them!

Anonymous said...

I'm Cat Chow from Chowhound and I'm thrilled these came out fabulous for you!! Yesterday I purchased my ingredients to make a 2012 holiday batch (for eatin' and giving away!). Can't wait!!

Anonymous said...

I live in Louisville Kentucky, less then a mile from Churchill Downs. Bourbon Balls are a Derby tradition. I've had the pleasure of sampling many different recieps and this one is by far the best. The seceat to really good Bourbon balls is to soak the nuts for at least 24 hours in a very good Bourbon. Do not skimp on the Bourbon. I highly recommend Makers Mark.

Tonya C said...

I live near Louisville and have been looking for a recipe like this. These are wonderful. Maker's Mark is the bourbon I used also.

Julia said...

After the bourbons balls set, how can I store them? Can they stay out in plastic bags or bins as well?

Lisa said...

Julia - Bourbon Balls keep best when stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator or a cool room.

liz said...

Lisa, I have made bourbon balls for years and my favorite trick is to soak the pecan in the bourbon for a while, sometimes for weeks. I'm a Kentucky girl and I like my bourbon balls strong.

Unknown said...

Lisa, thank you for sharing this recipe. My older sister use to make bourbon and rum balls every year. She did them around Halloween and put them up away until Christmas when they were shared/given as gifts. I remember them being very smooth and creamy. There was no strong "bite" BUT there was a warm feeling in ur chest after you ate them. She often consuled newbies to remember that actual alcohol was used not flavoring :) . I did try a recipe that calls for wafers and chopped nuts to make the balls, but those are gritty tasting to me...I am going to make these this afternoon. Again thank you and have a Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

I will be trying this recipe again this year. A couple of years ago I had issues with my creme filling setting...wish me luck this year! I plan to gift these delicious treats!

Lisa said...

Anonymous -The fillings can be a little tricky. They are on the soft side, which is very appealing when eating these candies, but can be hard to work with. If you can, try to make them on a day when the weather is sunny and dry, since weather has a significant effect on candy making. If the filling is just too hard to work with, add more powdered sugar. You can try adding a little more when mixing the filling or simply roll the balls in it after they are formed. Try not to add so much that the filling dries out or that the sugar flakes off into the dipping chocolate.
I hope that helps. Best of luck!

Lisa said...

I finally found Aunt Hen's recipe for Bourbon Balls, the one I used the first time I made these. Hers came from an old spiral bound cookbook called "Thoroughbred Favorites".
Aunt Hen's recipe is almost the same as the one I used from Chowhound. It basically doubles this recipe, with a ratio of 1 box (1 lb. or about 3 3/4 cups) 10x sugar to 1 stick of butter and 4 Tablespoons of bourbon. This ratio would make the filling a little bit stiffer than the one I have posted ….so go ahead and add up to 1/2 cup more powdered sugar if you are having trouble forming the filling into balls.
To be honest, I don't remember Aunt Hen ever having bourbon in the house! If she ever actually made these she probably borrowed the bourbon from my dad. It is also quite possible that she simply chose this recipe, based on my interest, and wrote it down for me.

Laura said...

I'm in the process of making these. I formed the balls last night and will cover with chocolate today. Once I finish how are they best stored? In the refrigerator?

Lisa said...

Laura - Finished Bourbon Balls should be stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool place (to prevent melting). Storing them in the refrigerator isn't necessary but is often recommended. I think they stay fresh longer in the refrigerator but I don't always have room to keep mine there. In any case, they taste best if brought to room temperature before serving.

Patricia said...

I just finished making the bourbon balls today and they are delicious! I used more powdered sugar too. I can't keep my hand out of the container...just for one more taste! Mine aren't as pretty as yours are, but next time they will be prefect, now that I know how to make them. Thanks for your recipe!! Happy New Year from Tennessee!

Anonymous said...

I am so excited to try making these tomorrow. You talk about soaking the nuts, if you just put the pecan half on top of the chocolate, do you soak them also?

Lisa said...

Anonymous - Thank you for your question! No, I don't soak the pecan halves that I put on top of the chocolate. Though both recipes make great tasting bourbon balls I still prefer the one that calls for a smooth center and a plain pecan half on top. It provides a nice contrast in texture and the pecan top hides a good many imperfections in the chocolate coating process.
Good luck with your holiday candy making. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...


I am from Louisville, Ky My Mother made theses every year for Christmas and they were delicious and always looked great, I make them every year and they never look as good, after 3 or 4 dipped in chocolate, the chocolate sauce gets gummy, any solutions for not making this happen

Lisa said...

Diane, my chocolate also tends to thicken over the course of dipping the centers. I find that it helps if the centers are very cold when I begin. Then the trick is to work quickly and with confidence. In the end the pecan on top serves to cover a variety of flaws in the dipping process!
I hope that helps. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Why not place your dipping chocolate in a hot water bath to keep the chocolate from cooling so fast from the cold balls?

Lisa said...

Great idea, Anonymous! Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Friends love the bourbon balls I get them from KY. I was hoping to making batches of them to hand out for Christmas this years. Approximately how many bourbon balls does the Chowhound recipe make?

Unknown said...

If your having problems with the filling and dipping, do like I did last year and make them like an Andie's mint, make a thin layer of chocolate in bottom of pan freeze it then spread your filling on top of that then do a top layer of chocolate, then freeze again and cut them into small bites, friends like them a lot because it wasn't a sugar shock like you get with the balls

Sherry said...

Should these candies be refrigerated after finishing or just in an airtight container?

Anonymous said...

I have been making these for close to sixty years and this is the same basic recipe that I was taught to use from the people that owned Bauer's candies in St. Matthews Ky. years ago.

Anonymous said...

Bauer's , Rebecca Ruth & Muth's candie stores all used this recipe as did my mother and grandmother and my father . This is THE "secret recipe" that has been around for the last seventy years that, I was taught to use. I also was born abd raised in St. Matthews, Ky.