Morgan Murphy loves bourbon so much that he has found ways to enjoy the barrel-aged spirit at every meal.
At breakfast, the Alabama-based travel writer and food critic dapples his oatmeal with extract made by infusing bourbon with vanilla beans. At lunch he spikes sandwiches with apple-bourbon barbecue sauce, and at dinner he sips Sazeracs and dines on steak topped with bacon, onion and bourbon marmalade.
Murphy doesn’t stop there: “I just love cooking bourbon in a dessert,” he said in a recent phone interview.
Murphy’s book “Southern Living Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to the South’s Favorite Food Groups” (Oxmoor House 2014) contains a dozen recipes for decadent, bourbon-infused desserts that are perfect for the holidays. Think bourbon-pecan pralines and pie, bourbon-cream cheese brownies and bread pudding drizzled with buttery bourbon sauce.
Bourbon adds complexity to sweets, Murphy says, and the alcohol “puts a kick in your girdle.”
Bourbon is made by aging whiskey in new charred American white oak barrels, which contribute to the spirit’s amber color and smoky flavor. By law, bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn, and bottled between 80 and 160 proof (that’s 40 and 80 percent alcohol by volume).
Bourbon is often associated with the American South and Kentucky, but not all bourbon is made there. Dark Horse Distillery in Lenexa makes small batches of bourbon in a copper pot still. Sip on the maple syrup-colored spirit, and you might notice notes of vanilla, caramel and smoke.
Damian Garcia, Dark Horse Distillery’s director of marketing, says he has heard from customers who use the local bourbon in everything from glazes for pork, beef and chicken to savory soups, stews and chili. “For desserts,” Garcia adds, “we’ve seen tarts, cakes, pies, brownies and even doughnuts.”
Dark Horse Distillery’s bourbon has a sweet spiciness that adds kick to a wide variety of kitchen creations. “Our recipe is a combination of corn and rye,” Garcia says, “so you get the natural sweetness in the corn and a robust spice from the rye.”
Every bourbon has a unique flavor profile, and those flavors shine through in a dessert. When it comes to selecting a spirit for a recipe, Murphy recommends skipping the cheap stuff and selecting an affordably priced bottle that you would enjoy sipping. (Choosing a higher or lower proof bourbon, however, does not affect the end result.)
Murphy uses Bulleit bourbon in his pecan tarts. In his book he writes that Bulleit is an “amber beauty, with its notes of spice, rye and cedar.” The spirit’s woodsy characteristic “pulls out the complex flavors of the pecan,” Murphy says. “So pecan pie tastes — this isn’t a word — pecan-ier.”
Bourbon can echo and amplify nutty, caramel or vanilla flavors in a dessert. But it can also contrast those flavors with unexpected hints of leather, tobacco or smoke. Murphy’s Bourbon and Coke Cake, for example, looks like a classic chocolate Bundt cake. But the spirit in the batter and glaze adds an intoxicating aroma and a jolt of vanilla-tinged fire to every sweet bite.
“Bourbon is not a meek flavor,” Murphy says. “It’s a bold flavor that marches across your palate.”
Bold bourbon desserts aren’t exclusive to the South. Here in Kansas City, chefs are spiking everything from ice cream to apple crisp.
At District Pour House & Kitchen in the Waldo neighborhood, executive chef Johnny Magno makes pecan pie out of nuts left over from the bar’s popular brown sugar- and pecan-infused bourbon.
Before baking them into pies, Magno flambés the pecans on the stovetop to burn off excess alcohol, then roasts them in the oven to enhance nuttiness and concentrate the residual bourbon’s flavor. The chef also candies the bourbon-soaked pecans and uses them as a garnish.
At Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge in the Power & Light District, executive chef Derek Kieffaber adds the restaurant’s namesake drink to cobblers, crisps and caramel sauce.
Kieffaber says bourbon complements fruit that grows on trees, particularly apples, pears and peaches. He likes to cook off most of the alcohol, because its astringent flavor can overwhelm.
Baking bourbon into a cake, tart or pie should safely burn off most of the alcohol. Flambéing works too, but it can be dangerous. “When cooking with alcohol, you need to be mindful if you do anything around a flame,” Kieffaber says. Keep in mind that baking in an oven using a bourbon-spiked marinade or syrup can also be flammable.
Murphy has another tip for anyone who wants to incorporate his favorite drink into recipes. “Always taste a lot of bourbon before you start dessert-making,” he says. “It’s the best way to make cooking a joy.”
Enterprise reporter Sarah Gish writes dining columns and a monthly cover story for the food section. To reach her, call 816-234-4823 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @sarah_gish.
Mr. Knight’s Bourbon Pecan Pie
Morgan Murphy says this is his favorite recipe from “Bourbon & Bacon.” “I just love what the bourbon does for the pecans,” he says.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 (9-inch) frozen unbaked deep-dish pie crust shell, thawed, or 1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust, defrosted as directed on box
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup bourbon
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup pecan halves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If using a refrigerated pie crust, place the crust in a pie pan, pressing it into the bottom and sides. Press a fork’s tines into the rim of the crust for a crimped appearance.
Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat, swirling pan occasionally, about 2 minutes. Butter should foam and bubble and turn a light golden brown. Do not allow butter to burn. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, beat eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Gradually stir in syrup, sugars, lemon juice, vanilla and salt; beat until smooth. Add bourbon, stirring until blended. Fold in melted butter until combined. Stir in chopped pecans.
Pour filling into pie crust and arrange pecan halves on top. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes or until set. Remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack.
Per serving, based on 6: 937 calories (55 percent from fat), 58 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 147 milligrams cholesterol, 99 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 656 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Source: Southern Living Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to the South’s Favorite Food Groups (Oxmoor House 2014)
Bourbon and Coke Cake
The vanilla notes in Dark Horse Distillery’s Reserve Bourbon Whiskey complement the rich cocoa and tangy buttermilk in this moist Bundt cake. Note: Most of the alcohol in the cake will evaporate, but the glaze is pretty potent, so this dessert is strictly for the 21-and-over set.
Makes1 (15-cup) Bundt cake
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cola soft drink
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup bourbon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
For the glaze:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cola soft drink
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar; beat until blended. Add eggs and vanilla; beat at low speed until blended.
In a small bowl, stir together cola, buttermilk and bourbon. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in another bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with cola mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until just blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Pour batter into a greased and floured 15-cup Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer the cake to a plate and cool for 30 minutes.
To make the glaze: While the cake cools, combine butter, cola and cocoa in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until butter melts. Remove from heat; stir in bourbon. Beat in confectioners’ sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth.
Drizzle warm glaze over the cake.
Per serving, based on 10: 795 calories (40 percent from fat), 35 grams total fat (21 grams saturated), 151 milligrams cholesterol, 110 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 667 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Source: “Bourbon & Bacon” (Oxmoor House 2014)
Apple-Ginger Tart With Cider-Bourbon Sauce
This tart tastes and smells as good as it looks. Bake one and your house will smell like spiked apple cider for hours.
Makes 8 servings
For the tart:
1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust, defrosted as directed on box
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups thinly sliced, peeled cooking apples (about 4 medium)
For the sauce:
1 1/4 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons bourbon
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place cookie sheet in oven while oven heats. Place pie crust in 9-inch tart pan, then bake crust on preheated cookie sheet for 7 minutes, or until golden brown.
Meanwhile, in large bowl, mix 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, ginger and cinnamon until blended. Add apples, toss until evenly coated. Arrange apples in concentric circles in partially baked crust, overlapping slices and beginning at outside edge and working toward center.
Cover top of tart with foil; place on preheated cookie sheet. Bake 40 minutes. Remove foil; bake 8 to 10 minutes more, or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Cool on cooling rack 30 minutes while making sauce.
To make the sauce: In a 1-quart saucepan, bring cider to boiling over high heat. Boil 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1 cup. Stir in butter and 2 tablespoons brown sugar; continue boiling 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. In small bowl, stir 1 tablespoon cornstarch into bourbon until dissolved. Stir bourbon mixture into sauce; boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Cut tart into wedges and serve with warm sauce.
Per serving: 235 calories (33 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 183 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Source: “The Big Book of Pies & Tarts” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. 2013)
Eggnog Waffles With Cinnamon Whipped Cream
This waffle recipe is a great way to use up excess eggnog. Bonus: There’s only 1 tablespoon of bourbon in the batter, so you don’t have to drain your favorite bottle to make a batch.
Makes 3 to 4 servings
For the waffles:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for garnish
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups eggnog
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon bourbon
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the waffles: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, eggnog, butter and bourbon. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter will be slightly lumpy.
Preheat a waffle maker according to manufacturers’ instructions. Pour the recommended amount of batter into the waffle maker. Cook until golden brown.
To make the whipped cream: Add the heavy cream, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Start with the mixer on low (to avoid splatters) and then increase the speed gradually to medium high. Whip until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat or it will look curdled.
To serve, top the hot waffles with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Per serving, based on 3: 1,031 calories (58 percent from fat), 66 grams total fat (39 grams saturated), 387 milligrams cholesterol, 90 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 1,356 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.