PD Greenwell reads cookbooks the way some people read novels. She enjoys food history, creating new recipes, and serving beautiful food.
Bourbon Cake Balls: PDGreenwell’s Family Recipe
The bourbon ball, a traditional Kentucky confection, is said to have been invented in 1938 by Ruth Hanly Booe, a candy maker (Rebecca Ruth Chocolates) in Frankfort, Kentucky. It is said that Ruth got the idea to mix chocolate candy and Bourbon after it was suggested by Kentucky governor Ruby Laffoon, who remarked that there was no better taste than that of chocolate and bourbon.
The legendary Rebecca Ruth bourbon ball recipe still remains a secret; however, nearly every family in the Bluegrass state has a recipe, most often based on crushed vanilla wafers.
These treats are generally associated with the Kentucky Derby, as well as the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays. They are made with real bourbon, and therefore, have a little kick like what you would expect having taken a sip of its namesake alcohol.
I suppose these could be prepared with bourbon flavoring, but that would be an abomination and should not even be attempted in the Commonwealth of Kentucky!
This recipe, developed by my husband, is based upon the basic cake ball recipe and therefore, different than the traditional recipe.
If I may be so bold as to say, these are tastier and even easier to prepare than the traditional version.
- 1 box yellow cake mix
- 1 16-ounce tub butter cream, vanilla or white icing, (NOT whipped)
- 8 ounce pecans, chopped
- 1/2 cup bourbon, (NOT bourbon flavoring)
- 2 packages chocolate bark
- 63 pecan halves, these are for decoration
You Will Also Need
- a mixer (if you don’t have one, really strong arms),
- 9x13 cake pan,
- 3–4 cookie sheets,
- wax paper or parchment
- an oven
- OPTIONAL: tiny cupcake liners and candy gift boxes (found at stores that sell craft and baking supplies)
- Soak nuts in bourbon while you mix, bake, and cool the cake.
- Bake the yellow cake mix in a 9x13 cake pan as directed on the box. Allow to cool.
- When cooled, crumble the cake into the bowl of your mixer. Set the baking pan to the side; you will use it again later.
- With the paddle on a slow speed, add the nuts and alcohol, as well as the entire tub of icing. Slow, so you don’t whip it out all over your kitchen—trust me on this one!
- Allow it to mix completely. This will have a moist, pasty consistency and will look somewhat unattractive.
- Spread this mixture back into the cake pan. Chill well in the fridge for two to three hours. It will be somewhat firm to touch when chilled properly.
- With a sharp knife, cut the "dough" into seven rows by nine rows, to ultimately make 63 bourbon balls.
- Using a fork, pull each cube out of the pan and roll it into a sphere with your hands.
- Place each sphere on a wax paper (or parchment) lined cookie sheet. It will actually take several sheets, probably three or four. Don't let the pieces touch because they will stick to each other.
- Chill again in the fridge for at least two more hours.
- After the spheres are chilled completely, prepare your favorite chocolate bark as directed.
- READ THE FOLLOWING STEPS BEFORE PROCEEDING: DO NOT remove the cake spheres from the refrigerator until everything is ready for assembly. Prepare to work quickly and uninterruptedly at this point. You will want room for the cookie sheets to be placed next to the dip. You will return the dipped spheres to the wax papered cookie sheets, so keep the wax paper intact on the cookie sheet. Have your toothpicks and pecan halves ready.
- Using a toothpick, dip each sphere (one at a time) into the coating, allowing excess to drip off and place carefully back onto the waxed paper cookie sheet. Again, don’t allow the spheres to touch each other.
- QUICKLY place a pecan half on top of the freshly dipped sphere and press down a bit to help it adhere to the ball. This will also serve to cover the unsightly toothpick hole.
- Allow them to chill in the fridge. You want the coating to be firm.
- If you are so inclined, place the treats on little cupcake papers and package them in boxes. Alternatively, you can just eat them right off the cookie sheet and pass out under the kitchen table. It is completely up to you.
Please try, then rate this recipe!
PDGreenwell (author) from Kentucky on January 17, 2020:
They are a wonderful gift to receive!
PDGreenwell (author) from Kentucky on January 17, 2020:
I'd be taking packages to the post office left and right if my post office were in a Ruth Hunt's! A Blue Monday is my favorite!
Karen Kolavalli from Lexington, Kentucky on January 12, 2020:
I haven't attempted to make bourbon balls yet in my five years in the Bluegrass, but I certainly enjoy them! The post office branch that I use in Lexington happens to be located in the Ruth Hunt candy store, which is very sneaky marketing!
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on January 12, 2020:
My sister sent me some bourbon balls and they were truly special. Maybe I can inveigh upon her to make some of these for my next visit. Your directions are great, but I'm a lazy cook.
PDGreenwell (author) from Kentucky on January 15, 2014:
Thank you all - JSParker, Millionaire Tips, pocono foothills, and emilybee! It really is a popular candy in Kentucky. There are just expected to be around at a holiday table or on Derby Day.
A special "Thank You" to JSParker for the compliment on the candy in the photograph! That cany is from a bathc we made when I wrote the Hub. My husband does the final dipping around here because he makes them look so nice! He extends his thank to you!
John Fisher from Easton, Pennsylvania on January 12, 2014:
Looks like something a person could really sink their teeth into. Voted up. Great recipe idea.
JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on September 23, 2012:
I love the idea of soaking pecans in bourbon, and I bet that would translate to other recipes. I make a simple candy with semi-sweet and milk chocolate, dried cranberries, and pecans that a touch of bourbon could make even better.
The candy in the photograph looks so professional!
Shasta Matova from USA on December 11, 2011:
Oh this looks delicious! will have to try this.
emilybee on February 09, 2011:
Yummy! Nice hub. I'll have to try this one out.
PDGreenwell (author) from Kentucky on December 12, 2010:
Thank you all for your comments. This is a fun recipe and if you like Bourbon, the results are delicious. Bourbon Balls are a big deal in Kentucky, especially Central Kentucky. Everyone has a family recipe and they are present on nearly every holiday table (AND Derby table). I hope you enjoy! Ann
Paula from The Midwest, USA on December 11, 2010:
These sound like a fun recipe to try! Thank you for sharing this information.
Cookin' Cowgirl from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 11, 2010:
Love it! Thanks for sharing your recipe! Givin' you a thumbs up!
Kaie Arwen on December 11, 2010:
My mother makes a fantastic bourbon cake; I will send this to her............. looks and sounds delicious! Kaie