We're home in Indiana for the holidays, and my current view is sitting in my mom's kitchen, daylight breaking, drinking coffee, watching the cows wake-up in the old red barn just past the fence. It's picture perfect, and very few believe the scene until they experience it themselves. It's the most tranquil place I know.
I saved this holiday recipe for last and for posting while home. My southern Indiana roots are near the Kentucky border, and learning to appreciate the nuances of fine bourbon is considered a right of passage in our family. Though I'm not sure if my grandmother ever made bourbon balls, I'd like to think she did. They were / are a staple around the holidays in this area - the perfect sweet and boozy finish to your evening.
Typically, bourbon balls use crushed vanilla wafers, powdered sugar, and corn syrup to bind the ingredients. For my "healthier" version, I'm using dates, which create an amazingly fudgy texture. And, if you swap out the bourbon (why?), they are actually a great mid-day snack as well. Needless to say, it's important to use really good quality bourbon in this recipe as the flavor dominates. I typically use Woodford Reserve as it's our go to for sipping, but any sweeter Kentucky bourbon will work.
Fudgy Bourbon Pecan Balls
Makes 16-18 balls
15 medjool dates, pits removed
1 cup pecans, toasted
1/4 cup cacao powder
2-3 Tbs. good bourbon (I used Woodford Reserve)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup pecans, toasted, finely chopped
1/4 cup coconut flakes, toasted, coarsely chopped
If dates are on the drier side, soak in hot water for 10-15 minutes until soft. Drain well.
Meanwhile, pulse 1 cup of toasted pecans in food processor until very finely chopped. Set aside.
Add dates to food processor along with cacao powder, 2 Tbs. bourbon, vanilla, and sea salt. Pulse until smooth and unified. Add pecans and process until a soft dough forms. Taste and adjust flavoring - i.e. add that extra tablespoon of bourbon or a pinch more salt depending on your preferences. (Note: the bourbon flavor will intensify over time.)
Refrigerate dough for 20-30 minutes to firm up. Then, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and scoop tablespoon sized balls, shaping them with your hands. To finish, roll balls in either chopped pecans or coconut flakes to coat.
Chill for at least 2 hours on the sheet pan in the refrigerator. Then, transfer the balls to a sealed container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or the freezer for up to 2 months.
Bring to room temperature just before serving. They are also good cold stright out of the fridge.
Notes: If you'd rather not use bourbon, you could substitute 2 tablespoons brewed coffee or other liquid such as almond milk.