It’s not just the kiddos who deserve a treat this year! This twist on old fashioned Bourbon Balls, a classic Southern no bake candy made with finely ground pecans, crushed cookies, chocolate, and a heavy pour of bourbon to hold it all together, is everything nice.
Well, the first one or two are nice. It gets naughty from there!
If you are looking for homemade holiday gift ideas this season, bourbon balls are sure to delight anyone with whom you share them.
They’re a cinch to make, can last for weeks in the refrigerator or at room temperature (not that we’ve ever had that problem), and are the kind of grown-up indulgence that we all crave this time of year.
This recipe avoids the pitfalls I’ve found with other homemade bourbon balls—aside from how hard it is to stop eating them anyway. You’ve been warned.
My issue with many bourbon balls is that they can be too sweet or too one-note; you get a punch in the mouth of bourbon and little else.
I found my answer via a genius tip from Melissa Clark of The New York Times.
Traditionally, old fashioned bourbon balls use vanilla wafers; Melissa uses gingersnaps. Brilliant!
The zip of the ginger was just the counterpoint the buttery bourbon needed and brought far more to the recipe than ho-hum vanilla wafers.
These are without a doubt the best bourbon balls I’ve ever eaten. I know they’ll lift your spirits too!
How Much Alcohol Is In a Bourbon Ball?
As their name suggests, classic bourbon balls do have alcohol. The amount can vary from recipe to recipe. Full disclosure: these are on the high end, which is exactly how we love them.
You can use less bourbon if you insist, but I don’t think you’ll want to.
If you’ll be serving these to kids or sharing them with friends who don’t drink, you can make bourbon balls without alcohol (see ingredient list below for suggestions).
How to Make Bourbon Balls
You can find as many recipes for authentic Kentucky bourbon balls as you can find cooks that make them.
At their core, bourbon balls are a no bake candy that contains a smooth bourbon pecan filling and chocolate. From there, it varies.
Some recipes call for soaking the pecans in bourbon for an hour or overnight; others include butter, shortening, or corn syrup. Still, others insist you roll the balls in chocolate, while others put chocolate IN the filling instead.
Today’s no bake bourbon balls are not only the best-tasting I’ve had; they are quite possibly the easiest. Better yet, the ingredient list is simple and you don’t need to prep anything ahead!
- Pecans. Toasted pecans bring a nutty, tasty crunch that was meant to be paired with bourbon.
- Gingersnap Cookies. Instead of the customary vanilla wafers, swap crushed gingersnap cookies. The lightly zingy ginger flavor is absolutely scrumptious with the chocolate and bourbon.
- Bourbon. Warm, cozy, boozy goodness that takes these balls from basic to breathtaking. It’s important to select a bourbon you enjoy the taste of, because you will be able to taste it in this recipe.
- Confectioners’ Sugar. Adds a touch of sweetness and helps absorb liquid to create the perfect bourbon ball texture.
- Cocoa Powder. For its rich chocolate touch.
- Sweetener. Forget the light corn syrup! Molasses, maple syrup, or honey will add the ideal touch of natural sweetness and superior flavor. I love molasses most for its intensity, and it’s scrumptious with the gingersnaps.
- Toast the pecans.
- Pulse the cookie crumbs in a food processor.
- Add the chopped pecans and salt, then pulse again.
- Stir the remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl (no need for an electric mixer).
- Pour the mixture into the food processor and pulse again. Almost done! Let it hang out at room temperature to thicken up a bit or pop it into the refrigerator to chill.
- Portion the dough into balls with a scoop or spoon and place on parchment paper or a sheet of plastic wrap.
- Roll them in the toppings of your choice. ENJOY!
Rolling Bourbon Balls
Once the balls are made, it’s time to roll them! You have options.
- Coarse Sanding Sugar or Turbinado Sugar. This is my favorite. It’s simple and perfect.
- Melted Chocolate. For chocolate bourbon balls, roll your balls in melted chocolate. I recommend chopped bar-style dark chocolate, not chocolate chips which do not melt as smoothly. Thin the chocolate with a little coconut oil or vegetable oil to help it set. For decoration, add a pecan before the chocolate sets.
- If rolling the bourbon balls in melted chocolate, use a fork or a toothpick to lift the balls out of the melted chocolate and allow excess to drip away before placing it on a baking sheet.
- Chocolate Sprinkles. A coating of chocolate sprinkles is fun, festive, and tasty. Serving the balls for a birthday? Try using rainbow sprinkles instead.
- Crushed Pecans. Coat the balls in crushed pecans for an extra touch of nuttiness.
- Cinnamon Sugar. A coating of cinnamon sugar is perfect for cinnamon lovers.
- To Store. Bourbon balls do not need to be refrigerated. Bourbon balls will last for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or at room temperature. Storing them uncovered will result in a more defined “crust”, and storing them covered will keep them moist.
- To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw and enjoy as desired.
Bourbon balls taste even better (and boozier!) the next day and can last for weeks in the refrigerator or room temperature. They’re great for mailing, gifting, and keeping on hand for “emergencies.”
Recommended Tools to Make Bourbon Balls
- Food Processor. For the smoothest bourbon ball batter.
- Baking Sheet. Ideal for baking the pecans for this Kentucky bourbon balls recipe.
- Cookie Scoop. This is great for making perfectly-portioned balls.
Cheers to an easy dessert with some serious spirit!
Frequently Asked Questions
You can swap vanilla wafers or chocolate wafers for the gingersnap cookies if you prefer.
I’ve enjoyed this as a Maker’s Mark bourbon balls recipe and Buffalo Trace bourbon balls recipe, but you can use any bourbon you enjoy the taste of.
Yes! Bourbon balls are a fantastic recipe for gifting and mailing. Make sure to use an airtight storage container or ziptop bag to keep them fresh during transfer.
- 1 1/2 cups raw pecans
- 2 1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 50 small cookies such as Nabisco; leftover gingersnaps work too!) or vanilla wafer crumbs or chocolate wafer cookie crumbs
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup bourbon I love Maker's Mark or Buffalo Trace for bourbon balls but any good bourbon here will work nicely; see notes for a non-alcholic version
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses honey, or pure maple syrup (I like molasses for the intense flavor)
- For rolling: Crushed cookie crumbs sprinkles, sanding or coarse sugar, finely chopped nuts (I don't recommend powdered sugar, as it becomes soggy)
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the pecans in a single layer. Bake until the pecans are toasted and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Immediate transfer to a cutting board to cool.
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the cookie crumbs (if you are starting with whole cookies, make the crumbs now then double-check to make sure you have 2 1/2 cups).
- Add the cooled nuts and salt. Continue to pulse, until the nuts are finely ground but not completely pulverized (you want them in small bits but for them to still have a little bit of texture).
- In a small bowl, whisk together the bourbon, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and molasses until smooth.
- Add to the food processor bowl and pulse until just combined.
- Scoop the mixture into a bowl and give it a few stirs if the ingredients are not evenly combined. Press it into a mass. Let rest at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the crumbs to absorb some of the liquid.
- Arrange anything you'd like to roll the balls in a shallow dish (a low bowl both works well).
- Portion the dough by tablespoonfuls (I like to use a tablespoon scoop like this) and roll into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in toppings of your choice, then transfer to a storage container (or enjoy IMMEDIATELY!).
- Bourbon balls will keep for about as long as you can prevent yourself from eating them!
- TO STORE: Store bourbon balls in an airtight storage container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze leftovers in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw and enjoy as desired.
- If you are storing the balls at room temperature: cover the container if you prefer your balls more moist. For more of a crust, leave them uncovered.
- For a less boozy ball, reduce the alcohol to 1/4 or 1/3 cup. If the mixture is too dry, you can splash in apple juice or orange juice to make up the moisture difference. For bourbon balls without alcohol, substitute orange juice or apple juice. Apple cider would also be fun to try.
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