Kentucky Bourbon Balls

Christmas, Dessert, Featured Article, Holidays
on November 21, 2012
Bourbon Balls
Mark Boughton/styling by: Teresa Blackburn

My one meager claim to fame is the fact that in 1936, my grandmother, Ruth Hanly Booe, invented the Bourbon Ball, a whiskey-spiked cream center that in the original recipe is covered with dark chocolate and topped with a pecan. Over time, it became a regional favorite, and home cooks started improvising their own versions, which are especially popular during the holidays.

The original bourbon balls are still produced by Rebecca-Ruth Candy, the business my grandma started in 1919 with her friend, Rebecca Gooch. Now owned by my brother, Rebecca-Ruth Candy still thrives in Frankfort, Ky. I live in Los Angeles where few people have heard of Bourbon Balls, so my lineage has never gotten me seated next to movie stars at Spago. But just recently, my friend Susie LaCour, a caterer in the Bay Area, mentioned her love of the confection. She said she made the best. I told her about my grandmother. In Susie’s eyes, this was like being related to Elvis.

So I gave Susie a box of bourbon candy. “Oh my God! These are incredible! Can you get drunk off these?” I assured her she’d fall into a diabetic coma long before she’d consumed enough to get a DUI, though they are pungent. And so are Susie’s which are attached below. We agreed there’s scant resemblance between my grandmother’s version and hers, but Susie’s are a fine rendition unto themselves. And the fact is, I don’t know the original recipe. My brother has it locked away and probably booby-trapped to an extent that would put Indiana Jones to the test.

—By Martin Booe, a food writer in Los Angeles, Calif.