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Welcome to WFAEats — a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and interesting in the Charlotte food scene. We want to share stories, recipes and culinary escapades and hear about yours!

Get The (Bourbon) Ball Rolling

Bourbon balls
Samantha Thacker

I have been making these bourbon balls for more than a quarter of a century now. 

Sure, there were years I didn’t make them at all and swore I would never do it again. Then there was the time I couldn’t be bothered getting confectioners sugar, and learned the hard way that using granulated sugar instead made them so sweet and gritty that my dearest friend, who had always been a big fan, literally gagged and spit one out right in front of me. 

Back when I started making bourbon balls, I didn’t have a food processor and did not consider myself wealthy enough for such a luxury item. I smashed the ground wafers needed for the recipe with a hammer, then reduced the crumbs to as fine a grind as possible with a rolling pin. That’s also how I crushed the nuts. Eventually, I did purchase a small, inexpensive food processor, which has served its purpose well for oh-so-very many years, and is now starting to make noises of retirement. Bourbon, and the Southern whiskeys that are often referred to as bourbon, were foreign to me as well back then. After starting with cheaper brands, I discovered Jack Daniel’s, which quickly became my drink of choice, neat. 

I soon developed a fan base of friends and coworkers who start jonesing for my bourbon balls each year. Often, they ask for the recipe and I’m happy to oblige. So here is my basic recipe that I hardly stick to anymore. I haven’t used walnuts in a long time. I now like using almonds, peanuts, and sometimes cashews. I find that shortbread can be a fine substitute for wafers, and I regularly throw in stuff like instant coffee, unsweetened coconut, and whatever sounds interesting. I have tried different liqueurs like Amaretto and Frangelico, which add nicely to the flavor, but they lack the proper alcohol content to provide the desired result. For the first time, this year I’ve tried rum, but cannot yet attest to its effectiveness. I still swear by Jack. 

Traditionally, preparation starts at Thanksgiving so they’re ready by Christmastime, which provides the three-to-four weeks of fermentation that they optimally need. And that is the real secret to a mighty fine bourbon ball. Ferment, ferment, ferment. If done correctly, when you swallow your first bite, you will feel a lovely bourbon mist waft up your throat to your uvula. 

Of course, you can enjoy them sooner, even immediately. Plan your own holiday bourbon balls accordingly and keep in mind they are appropriate at any time of year.

Basic Recipe for Bourbon Balls

Get to know the feel of the basic recipe mixture before moving on to your own creations. I’ve been told they can last for months, but not in my refrigerator.

2 cups ground vanilla wafers (10 – 12-oz. box)

2 cups ground nuts (start with walnuts and leave some chopped for crunchier balls)

2 cups confectioners sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup bourbon/whiskey

1/4 cup chocolate syrup

For coating:

About 1 cup of granulated sugar

About 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In a large bowl, combine the wafers, nuts, confectioners sugar, and 1/4 cup cocoa powder. Then add the bourbon and chocolate syrup and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, combine the granulated sugar with the remaining cocoa powder.

Roll mixture, kneading slightly if necessary, into balls that are tight and without cracks, about 1” in diameter. Then roll each in the sugared cocoa to coat them. Place on a cookie sheet. 

Pour leftover sugared cocoa over the balls to help them set. Place them in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate for 3 to 4 weeks for best results. Keep refrigerated.

Yield: about 60 1-inch balls

Samantha Thacker works in medical education and is a writer based in New York City. She is currently working on an erotic mystery novella. Her bourbon balls are so popular that lucky recipients in North Carolina occasionally get the opportunity to enjoy them during the holidays. 

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