If you've eaten with me at any holiday gathering over the last few weeks, chances are you ate something with bourbon in it. Jennifer made a fantastic bourbon pecan pie for a couple of Thanksgiving get-togethers. Last week, I made some cookies (cookie sandwiches, rather) for a giant cookie swap. They were chocolate chip cookies made with brown butter, with a bourbon ganache in the middle. There will be a post on those next week. Friday night, I made some pecan pie tarts with bourbon in the filling. They were just a basic pastry (flour, butter) with a filling made with melted butter, egg, brown sugar, pecans, and some bourbon. It really adds an incredible scent and flavor to this common dessert.
Bourbon can have a wide variety of tastes depending on aging and specific ingredients, but there are some typical tastes in the flavor profile which you will consistently find. There is usually a hint of caramel and vanilla in a decent bourbon, which makes it a good ingredient to complement existing flavors in sweet dishes. However, it also has a distinct flavor of charcoal (the burnt wood variety) and a hint of a wood flavor. This is because bourbon, legally, must be aged in charred, oak barrels. These barrels have to be new, which helps keep that consistent flavor. Old barrels may impart flavors from previous blends or might even have been used to age rum which would dramatically change the flavor. This makes it a great ingredient for both savory and sweet dishes.
Baked - Not Pretty, But Delicious
One thing to think about is how strong of a flavor you want. Lower proof bourbons will tend to be sweeter because of the lower alcohol content. Another thing to consider - alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water and other liquids. So if you use this in a frozen dessert, make sure you use an amount on the smaller side of the measurement, and a low-proof whiskey. Otherwise, your dish is likely to have a nasty bite (and it likely won't be a pleasant one). And if you don't keep bourbon around the house, you shouldn't use more than a couple of ounces in any recipes. One or two small single-serving bottles should suffice.
Do you cook with bourbon? What are some of your favorite ways to use bourbons or liqueurs? Comment below and let me know!