There are so many things (read: food-related holidays) to look forward to in the month of May. One of our favorite and fast approaching events is The Kentucky Derby; it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge in Southern snacks galore. Aptly dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” this legendary horse race is coming up on May 5th. That’s also Cinco de Mayo, so… there’s plenty to celebrate.
In addition to horse racing, bluegrass music, and southern hospitality, Kentucky is synonymous with fried chicken, barbecue, and a 200-year tradition of producing everyone’s favorite dark liquor: bourbon. No matter the maker, it’s a safe bet that if you’re drinking bourbon, it’s from the bluegrass state, where, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association, 95% of the world’s bourbon is made.
Technically speaking, bourbon is a whiskey that, required by the law of the land, must be aged in brand-spanking-new oak barrels for at least two years and must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn in addition to the usual malt and rye mashup. These qualities are what makes bourbon distinctly Kentuckian, and a classic all-American spirit. Bottom line: all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon.
For this year’s Derby, we’re celebrating with a few bourbon cocktails, and one sweet bourbon-based treat. Our mint julep recipe is obviously the most typical for the race, but we’re also partial to this bourbon iced tea and this creamy bourbon milkshake.
To satisfy our ever-growing sweet tooth, we’re loving these bite-sized bourbon balls, an addictive (and marginally intoxicating, sorry kids) combo of bourbon, crushed vanilla wafers, powdered sugar, cocoa, and ground nuts. We like ours coated in ground vanilla wafers, but you can also roll ’em in ground nuts, powdered sugar, or even something unexpected like coconut flakes, if, of course, you have a thing for coconut. Off to the races…
3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers, divided
1 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted (see directions below)
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup bourbon
To toast the pecans: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spread pecans on a baking tray and cook in the oven for about 5 minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted. Keep a close eye on them – burnt pecans
Using a food processor, chop the vanilla wafers into crumbs. Remove 1 cup of the wafer crumbs and set aside on a plate for the coating. Add the pecans into the food processor with the remaining wafer crumbs and process until the mixture is finely ground. (In place of a food processor, try using the good old-fashioned method of placing the wafers and nuts in a sealable zip-lock bag and crush them with a rolling pin.)
Transfer the crumb-pecan mixture into a large mixing bowl and mix with the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Add the light corn syrup and bourbon, and mix well to combine.
Using a melon baller or two teaspoonful’s, form approximately 1-inch balls and then gently roll in the crushed vanilla wafers or your desired coating. Place bourbon balls on a tray or plate and let them chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge or freezer for up to one week.
Makes approximately 48 balls.
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