Kentucky's not my native home, but I married into the state. My wife and in-laws all hail from the land of bourbon and throughbreds so, in preparation for Is My Blog Burning, #8 - Lift Your Spirits High, hosted by There's a Chef in My Kitchen, I turned to a most authentically American spirit - bourbon.
Bourbon is a a whiskey that must be made to exacting standards. A whiskey is not a bourbon unless 51 percent or more of the grain used to make it is corn. The rest is usually barley and rye. Bourbon must be aged in white oak barrels that have been charred and which can not be used for a second batch. Also, to be true Kentucky bourbon, it must hail from certain areas of the state of Kentucky and have been aged for at least two years. People take these requirements seriously. In Kentucky, bourbon isn't just a drink - it's culture and heritage.
My first inclination was to make bourbon balls, a Kentucky tradition and a delicious treat, but as I looked at the various recipes, I found ingredients like paraffin and margarine and I just am not to the point where I can work with those things on short notice and come up with something edible or credible.
Besides, I have it on good authority that my aunt-in-law make the best bourbon balls anywhere and I decided any recipe I'd put together could only suffer by comparison. I had the idea of making bourbon ball like objects with a liquid center, but I discovered my freezer just isn't cold enough to freeze alcohol-based simple syrup, even when adulterated with cream, powdered sugar, corn starch, etc.. If you can't freeze the centers, it's difficult to put them in the ball. If I could get down to 40 below I might make bourbon centers for these, but until a good cold snap in January, we're going to enjoy Old Kentucky Bourbon Truffles.
Old Kentucky Bourbon Truffles
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup (I know, I know)
24 oz. dark chocolate, divided into 18 oz. dark chocolate, highest quality (Valrhona, etc...) plus 6 oz dark chocolate
2 cups whole pecan halves
2 cup Kentucky bourbon, or enough to cover pecans
Makes 24-30 pieces
The better the bourbon, the better the truffles (within reason). I used Knob Creek, aged 9 years which is a lovely bourbon. It's a very good drinking bourbon, but it's not the tippy top of the line so you can feel indulgent but not compelely wasteful combining it with chocolate.
Preparation - soak the pecans overnight in the bourbon in a covered bowl. If you don't cover the bowl you will lose a lot of the bourbon.
Drain the pecans the next day, reserving the bourbon. Much of it will have been absorbed by the nuts, making them softer and alcoholic.
Next step, get a hammer and bash up 18 oz. of your dark chocolate into smallish pieces. It doesn't need to be dust, but if you can down towards chocolate chip size you'll be pleased with the results. Heck, while you're at it, smash the last 5 oz. of chocolate as well and set aside.
Please note, this is just for illustrative purposes. I smash my chocolate by wrapping it in parchment then in paper towels and THEN whacking the heck out of it. DO NOT take a hammer to your best bowls. Please.
Next, in a medium saucepan, combine the cream, butter and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Shut the heat off and dump the chocolate into the mix. DO NOT STIR. You can swirl the pan a little to ensure the chocolate is covered. Cover the mix and let sit for 5 minutes.
Add 8 tablespoons of the reserved bourbon from the pecans and stir the mix with a small whisk until the chocolate, liquor and cream mix are well combined.
Put the saucepan in the refrigerator. After 15 minutes in the refrigerator, stir the mix to recombine any ingredients that have separated. Return to the fridge.
Repeat two more times. After 45 minutes, check and stir every 7 minutes ntil the mix firms up. This will happen very quickly. If it seems like the mix is on the edge of firming up, check and stir every 3 minutes until it is firm enough to form into balls. At some point you'll probably have to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. You should be done somewhere around an hour depending on your ingredients and how cold your refrigerator is.
Now, have a big wide shallow bowl of very cold water standing by. You're going to get messy, but the water is not for cleanup.
Take a look at the size of your pecan halves. You are going to make balls large enough that a pecan will fit on top of the ball, covering it, but not hanging over the sides much, if at all.
Cover a baking sheet (or two) with a piece of was paper or parchment paper.
Wash your hands really really well. Now take a regular small teaspoon and scoop out the appropriate amount of chocolate goo. Roll it into a ball of the right size and place it on the parchment on the cookie sheet.
Repeat until you've used up all the goo (it's a ganache, to be technical, but goo sounds better). The heat of your hands will melt the chocolate, making it easier to form the balls and COVERING your hands with goo. If it seems like too much goo is going on your hands and not enough is going into the chocolate balls, dip your hands in the cold water. You aren't washing your hands, you're just cooling them down to make it easier to work with the chocolate.
When you've used up all the goo, count the number of balls you've made. Count out that many bourbon-soaked pecans halves to top the treats and set them aside. Chop the rest finely with a knife, food processor or "whapper-chopper".
Refrigerate the tray(s) of chocolates for at least one hour.
Put the chopped pecans in a shallow bowl. Take out the tray of refrigerated centers and place it at the left side of an assembly line we're going to put together. Place a parchment paper covered tray on the far right end of the line. This will be your landing zone. Put the pecan halves above the line, and leave a space between the first tray and the chopped pecans for a bowl of melted chocolate.
Next melt 6 oz. chocolate in a small metal bowl over a saucepan filled with water. Put the heat on medium and stir until the chocolate melt. Move the bowl to the assembly line.
drop a center in the chocolate, coat it with chocolate with a teaspoon, move to the chopped pecan bowl and roll the center until coated with a second teaspoon. Place on landing zone tray. Place a pecan half on top of the ball, press down. Repeat until all centers are done.
You may have to occasionally replace the chocolate on the saucepan to melt it down again. Leave the stove on for this purpose.
When complete you should have a lovely tray of choc-ies that looks like this -
Cool in the refrigerator for an hour and serve. Humming Stephen Foster tunes is optional.