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Kentucky Bourbon Balls Recipe

By Wendy Akin

Tags: recipes, cookies, bourbon, desserts, holidays, hazelnuts, Texas, Kentucky, Wendy Akin,


Back in the early 1950s, my family moved to northern Kentucky. We had the great fortune to live just down the street from Louella Schierland, one of the contributing authors of the iconic Joy of Cooking.

Mrs. Schierland gave my mother this recipe and I remember that these bourbon balls were stored in a coffee can in the refrigerator. Although I did sneak some as a 10-year-old, I don’t advise giving them to kids as they do contain uncooked bourbon.

We didn’t have food processors back in the 50s, nor many of the other great kitchen helpers we have today. I remember Mother put the vanilla wafers in a paper grocery bag (no plastic back then) and rolled and smashed them with her rolling pin.

I’ve made some changes to the original to avoid today’s GMOs. And, of course, I do have my trusty vintage 1978 Cuisinart! Makes about 40 treats.

Kentucky Bourbon Balls


• 1-1/2 cups sugar
• 3 tbsp best quality dark cocoa
• 1/3 cup Bourbon whiskey
• 3 tbsp cane or agave syrup
• 2-1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafers, 11- or 13-oz box
• 1 cup broken pecans or hazelnuts


1. Pour a full box of vanilla wafers into the food processor and process until completely crumbed. Empty into a bowl.

2. Put the sugar into the processor and run a minute to make the sugar fine. Add the cocoa and pulse, then wait a minute for the dust to settle. Remove ½ cup of the sugar mix to a small pie plate and set aside.

3. Measure the bourbon and then measure the syrup into the bourbon and stir. Pour the bourbon mix around onto the sugar mix and pulse a time or two.

4. Add the vanilla wafers and the nuts and process until thoroughly mixed and it comes together. Transfer the mixture into the bowl.

5. Mold the mixture into firm balls, about 3/4-inch in diameter. Drop each one into the pie plate filled with cocoa-sugar mix and roll until coated. Pack into an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.

These get better if allowed to “ripen” a few days, but keep for a very long time. Kentucky Bourbon Balls are a good choice for shipping, because they don’t break.

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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