It’s hard to think of any dessert — especially in the fall and winter — that isn’t well-served by a good shot of bourbon.
Caramel sauce? Naturally. Cakes and pies? For sure. Candies? Yep. Ice cream? Definitely. Bread pudding? You betcha.
Sure, other spirits can be incorporated into desserts here and there. But none is as well-suited at dinner’s end as earthy, warming, soul-satisfying bourbon.
You can find bourbon desserts on menus around the country, from the wildly popular Secret Breakfast ice cream at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco (with bourbon and a corn-flake crumble) to bourbon balls at the Woodford Reserve tasting room in Versailles to the mammoth bourbon bread pudding at Hillbilly Tea in Louisville.
Lynn Marie Hulsman, author of Bourbon Desserts (University Press of Kentucky, $19.95), recommends subbing bourbon in dessert recipes where you’d normally add vanilla or almond extract.
“It pairs well with cinnamon because of the warmth,” Hulsman says. “I really like it with caramel, … pumpkin and bourbon, … bourbon and apples go really well together. The sweetness of the apples counterbalances the spiciness of the bourbon.”
You’ll want to use caution, of course, when serving bourbon desserts to children, or those who do not or cannot consume alcohol. There’s no way to guarantee that all alcohol has cooked out of a dish.
As in all types of cooking with wine, beer or spirits, cook with something you’d drink. Hulsman prefers Maker’s Mark — it was her family’s bourbon of choice growing up in Kentucky.
Phillip Foss, chef and owner of Chicago’s EL Ideas, likes Bulleit or Buffalo Trace for cooking.
“Quality goes in; quality goes out,” Foss says.
At EL Ideas, Foss has served pecan pie with bourbon balls, and a bourbon caramel sauce. He’s currently featuring a bourbon cake with the cheese course.
“Bourbon has a spiciness to it that it gets mostly from the barrel-aging process,” Foss says. “It can be smoky, spicy, all kinds of different things.”
Bourbon brown butter pecan ice cream
From Allison Scott of Sunday Dinner Club
1/4 pound unsalted butter
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
9 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
3 tablespoons good bourbon
Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast the pecans, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove them from the butter with a slotted spoon. Continue cooking the butter, stirring continuously, until the milk solids turn golden brown, about 2 more minutes.
Pour the browned butter immediately into a medium bowl, taking care to scrape all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Whisk the brown sugar into the browned butter; let cool slightly.
In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and the half and half just to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and salt into the cooled brown sugar mixture.
Slowly temper the hot cream mixture into yolks by pouring a little in at a time, whisking continuously, so the eggs don’t curdle. Pour the custard back into the saucepan; cook over very low heat, stirring continuously, until it coats the back of a spoon (180 degrees Fahrenheit). Do not let it boil. Strain the mixture into a bowl placed over an ice bath.
Stir occasionally until mixture cools to room temperature. Whisk in buttermilk, vanilla bean paste and bourbon. Taste, and if you like, season with more bourbon (up to 1/4 cup total so it will still freeze) and salt.
Refrigerate custard for at least 4 hours, then freeze according to the instructions on your ice cream maker. Stir in the reserved pecans toward the end of the churning. Makes about 1 quart.
Nutrition information per 1/2 cup serving: 588 calories, 52 g. fat, 27 g. saturated fat, 337 mg. cholesterol, 27 g. carbohydrates, 7 g. protein, 207 mg. sodium, 1 g. fiber.
Coffee and bourbon pralines
From Bourbon Desserts by Lynn Marie Hulsman. The candy can be stored, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
2 cups pecan halves and pieces
3 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals
1/4 cup bourbon
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay two long sheets of wax paper on the countertop.
Arrange the pecans in a single layer on an ungreased rimmed baking sheet; bake until toasted and fragrant, stirring once, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; set the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour the brown sugar, coffee crystals, bourbon, cream, butter and corn syrup into a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven; heat to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Attach a candy thermometer to the pot.
Continue to cook and stir, until the thermometer reads 236 degrees Fahrenheit (soft-ball stage), 10 to 20 minutes. Once done, remove the mixture from the heat; let cool to 150 degrees, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the vanilla and nuts; continue to stir briskly until the mixture loses its sheen, 5 to 15 minutes. Drop the candy by tablespoons onto the wax paper, leaving 2 inches between the dollops. Let stand until firm before serving. Makes about 32 pieces.
Nutrition information per piece: 165 calories, 9 g. fat, 3 g. saturated fat, 14 mg. cholesterol, 23 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. protein, 10 mg. sodium, 1 g. fiber.