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Is it Christmas without Bourbon Balls?

Soak your balls with shots of whiskey! Fa-la-la-la-laaaaa, la-laa-la-laaa!
‘Tis a treat to make us frisky! Fa-la-la-la-laaaaa, la-laa-la-laaa!
Balls of chocolate laced with bourbon, Fa-la-la-la–la-la-la–la-la-la!
Packed with nuts and a wee more bourbon! Fa-la-la-laaaa–la-la-la-la!

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Christmas Bourbon Balls

Where I first heard of bourbon balls or how these chunky chocolate nuggets became a part of my personal Christmas traditions are mysteries lost in the fog of Yuletides past. All I can honestly offer today is that it is not Christmas around the cave until the bourbon balls roll out.

Two branches stem from the bourbon ball tree. One is kin to a cookie while the other is decidedly candy, both sharing deep Southern roots.  The candy traces back to 1919 when Ruth Hanly and Rebecca Gooch began a candy-making business in Frankfort, Ky. Long about 1938 Hanly combined their highly popular chocolate with Kentucky bourbon whiskey to create a confection the recipe for which remains a guarded family secret of the Rebecca Ruth Candy Co. to this day. These are not MY bourbon balls.

My bourbon balls are more cookie than candy, and recipes for these easy to make adult treats abound throughout the South. Not even GOOGLE, however, could provide a hint to their origin or history.

Traditional bourbon balls begin with vanilla wafers. Non-traditionalists may opt for shortbread cookies, ginger snaps, graham crackers, Oreos (do you really want to scrape off all that cream center?), etc. Heck, I’ve even pondered experimenting with Ritz crackers, but truth be told, I’ve not yet gotten far enough into my cups to try that variation.

Start with a double handful of cookies. If you tend toward lazy, dump ’em in a food processor or blender to reduce the cookies to fine crumbs. I prefer to double-bag ’em in plastic baggies and beat the crap out of ’em with my trusty rustic wooden rolling pin. This hands-on method will not produce the crumb uniformity of machine processing, but I feel SO much calmer when I’m done. Also, I prefer the more rustic, non-uniform crumb size.

Begin the batch with at least a healthy cup of crushed cookies in a large mixing bowl. Some folks prefer to bump it up to two cups of crumbs for a tamer product. You will have to experiment to find your particular comfort zone.

To the crumbs add two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and a generous cup of finely chopped nuts. Mix well.

Being a Southern concoction, pecans are, of course, the traditional nut of choice here. Free-thinking lefties, on the other hand, have been known to use hickory nuts, walnuts, hazel nuts, chestnuts, what have you. I’ve even heard rumors of some die-hard tree huggers using pine nuts, but that does get costly in a hurry. Whatever the nut you decide to go with, they will benefit from toasting before chopping, but that’s fodder for another blog.

The heart and soul of the bourbon ball is the whiskey. Bourbon whiskey. GOOD bourbon whiskey which comes from Kentucky. If you would not let it pass your lips straight, don’t put it in your balls! As you can see, my personal choice is Buffalo Trace (No, I do not get kickbacks from the distillery, but I remain open to offers!). Must one use bourbon whiskey? Well, yes, if one wants to make bourbon balls. However, you can use rum instead if you have a hankering to put some rum-pa-pum-pum in your Christmas celebrating. Same rule of quality applies.

So fetch down a small glass bowl in which to blend 1/4 cup of fine bourbon (yes, or rum!) with about a tablespoon and a half of light corn syrup. What happens if all you have is dark corn syrup? I suppose your balls will lean to the dark side, I do not know. Nor have I played with honey or molasses, although I am considering it. Use your own judgement. Have fun!

Thoroughly combine the bourbon/corn syrup mixture into the dry ingredients in the larger bowl. Incorporate it completely, then cover the dish with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to stiffen a bit. Half an hour should do it, but it will not hurt to let it sit longer.

When you are ready to roll your balls, sift about a cup of powdered sugar into a pie pan. Take about a heaping teaspoon or two of the mixture, form it into a ball and roll it in the sugar. Coating the balls in sugar retards alcohol evaporation, so do not omit this step! Seal the finished balls in an air-tight container, return them to the fridge and forget about ’em for at least a couple of days. Most purists will age them at least a week, but whose got that kind of will power, right? Take your balls out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature before serving. You also may want to roll them one more time in powdered sugar before presentation.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in The Elderly American Songbook

 

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What a friend we have in cheeses

CheesesCome on, now, fess up. Surely, I’m not the only hardshell Baptist child to ever hear “What a friend we have in cheeses” in that venerable Sacred Harp hymn.

Cheese is older than recorded history, probably originating as if by magic back when Middle Eastern nomads began toting milk in goatskin bags. And what fare is more basic, more down to Earth for road trip picnicking than a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a bottle of good wine?

So here’s to cheese in all its marvelous forms and flavors! Our salute from The Elderly American Songbook.

What A Friend We Have In Cheeses

What a friend we have in cheeses; cheddar, brie and Camembert.
What a privilege to marry country ham with smoked Gruyere.
Oh, what peas so often forfeit, Oh, what tasteless dishes bear
All because we do not marry yummy cheese with all our fare!

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged, so long as we have cheese to share.
Can we find a friend so faithful to grace our table oh so fair?
Cheeses fit for every palette, to every meal a special flare.

Such a friend to macaroni! Comfort food beyond compare!
And who can imagine poor bologna, without an American slice to share?
But be it wedge or slice or circle, be it spread or in a can,
There’s no food you may mention that’s been a better friend to man!

 

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in The Elderly American Songbook

 

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Sunday Morning Big Honkin’ Biscuits

BIG HONKIN’ BISCUITS as requested by Sally Midkiff Struck

Sunday morning sausage biscuits made with Big Honkin’ Biscuits

2 cups flour — pick your poison; all-purpose, bread, whole wheat

1 Tblsp baking powder — If you can’t remember the last time you used that can in the cupboard, go get a fresh can!

1 tsp salt — sea salt, kosher, “Singin’ in the Rain” salt, etc.

1 Tblsp white sugar — nothing racist here, gotta wonder what brown sugar would do?

1/3 cup shortening — lard, butter; heck, I’m even thinkin’ bacon fat!

1 cup milk — Use powdered, mix up a big baggie of the dry ingredients and you’re that far ahead when you wanna take ’em camping!

CHILL the fat and the milk. If you use butter, cut it into small cubes and put it beside the cup of milk in the FREEZER at least 10 minutes. Fat and milk should be COLD, not frozen.

Set oven to 425F.

Mix all the dry ingredients If you dare break out a food processor or stand mixer, well, what can I say? You’re a CANDY ASS and don’t deserve great biscuits. Get your HANDS in there! Coat your hands WELL with flour. Actually, I’ll pull on vinyl gloves AND coat my hands. Work the fat into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarsely ground meal. Add the milk a little at a time, blending well. You’re looking for a moist dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl. If it seems a touch TOO wet, don’t worry.

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured board–DON’T skimp on the flour– and knead the dough until it FEELS right, about 10 or 15 “folds” or roughly 5 minutes. Pat or roll the dough into a flat round about half an inch thick.

Flour the rim of something akin to a mason jar to cut out the biscuits. Original recipe says “juice” glass; but if you go that small, you’re gonna have a biscuit that looks like a stack of poker chips! These puppies WILL rise; they WON’T spread out. You’ll have to reshape and cut a couple or three times, but don’t be surprised if you only get about six biscuits, max.

Original recipe says to bake on an ungreased baking sheet, but my grandma NEVER baked anything on an ungreased surface. I like to spray the sheet lightly before putting the biscuits on it. Let ’em bake about 15 minutes, just until they start to brown up good around the edges. If I were you, I’d start peeking at ’em after about 12-13 minutes.

Sure, you’re busy. I get it. So, you can’t give yourself, not to mention any significant others, half an hour of your time to make a great scratch-built biscuit? Here’s what you do. Make up a couple or three batches of this dough ahead of time instead of rotting your brain with Desperate Housewives or some such toxins. Wrap the dough ball well with plastic wrap, put that in an air-tight freezer baggie or other container and stash it in the fridge. It’s good for up to to weeks.

You’re welcome!

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Back to Basics

 

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