The Red Stag bourbon balls that Christine Chase makes every year for the holidays are not for everybody. They’re definitely not for children, and they’re not for adults who lack appreciation of the way booze and chocolate can get cozy.
But, oh, if you are lucky enough to be on their gift list, you’ve got a sweet thing coming. Chase first tried the treats about six years ago, after her brother-in-law had been so impressed by a co-worker’s rendition that he asked for the recipe. It’s been Chase’s go-to Christmas indulgence ever since.
“We’ve tinkered with the recipe a bit each year, changing bourbons, mostly,” says Chase, 51, of Raleigh who enjoys making the candies with her husband, Steve Millward. “We settled on Red Stag because it has that nice hint of cherry flavor.”
Chase and Millward usually make a large batch that produces about 12 dozen bourbon balls. Dividing the steps into manageable chunks, they make a weekend of it, starting Friday night and finishing Sunday afternoon.
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Chase, a project manager for IBM, says her husband does not typically cook but enjoys opportunities to collaborate in the kitchen. He’s especially supportive of her recently acquired passion for foraging. “We’ve found paw-paws and mushrooms, and I’ve made acorn flour from our oak trees,” she says.
Chase is eager to make bourbon balls this year and has begun gathering the necessary ingredients. She’s considering new tweaks but believes the best improvement she made to the original recipe is to set a pair of old fashioned glasses on the counter.
After all, you’ve got to make sure the bourbon is good, right?
“After all, “ she observes wisely, “you’ve got to make sure the bourbon is good, right?”
A grandmother’s sugar cookie
As a holistic health coach and natural chef, Maureen O’Neal recommends that people seek balance in their lives and avoid foods with lots of sugar or fat. Except when it comes to her grandmother’s legendary sugar cookies.
“I wouldn’t exactly call them healthy,” quips O’Neal, 52, of Raleigh. “The spirit is very healthy, though. For me, Christmas would not be Christmas without them. They are light and delicious with an almond flavor and aroma that’s just irresistible.”
O’Neal has fond memories of her grandmother, Ann East, who would chill the buttery-soft dough in the snow at her Rochester, N.Y., home. Her children were so desperate to eat them that they’d hunt for her annual hiding place and crack open tins when she wasn’t looking.
Her own mother, Mary Ann Hanson, would make several batches of cookies over two days, first making the dough and rolling the cookies, then baking them for her children to decorate.
“My mother was quite the artist, and she made sure we had every color of icing and sanding sugar imaginable,” O’Neal recalls warmly. “She’d spread newspaper on the table and let us go to town. She was really patient, too. There were seven of us, and we’d always wind up quitting after decorating a few cookies, leaving her to do the rest.”
O’Neal’s mother died in April, so making cookies this Christmas will be a bittersweet experience.
“One of my sisters already asked if we’ll be doing the annual family cookie exchange, which of course we’ll do with all of our kids,” she says. “It really touches my heart to think about this. I also plan to make my mother’s sweet rolls and kuchen, a German coffee cake, both of which use almond paste. I bought every tube of almond paste at the grocery store the other day, so I’m ready.”
Christmas flavors in the Hanukkah baking
As the only Jewish student in her small-town Georgia high school class, Brittany Fishman Pais had plenty of opportunities to enjoy multicultural holiday snacking.
“I love it all,” says Pais, 28, a senior business analyst for Dex Media in Cary. “When I graduated from college, I started looking at food blogs and websites with the idea of giving recipes a twist to make them my own. I was especially interested in ways that I could be creative and tie together the holidays I celebrate.”
One of her first successes came with a recipe based on Ina Garten’s rugelach, a small, rich pastry familiar to many Jews who host coffee get-togethers. “In my opinion, Ina can do no wrong,” says Pais, who combined the aromatic essence of Christmas in her Hanukkah baking to create Gingerbread Rugelach with Cranberry Jam filling.
For Purim last spring, Pais “s’mored” traditional triangular hamentaschen by filling them with chocolate and topping them with gooey marshmallow. Find some of her recipes online at The Nosher, the food section of MyJewishLearning.com, and TheBigFatJewishWedding.com.
Pais of Raleigh enjoys the surge of creative inspiration that comes with the approach of Jewish holidays. “Part of you associates it with religion, of course, but then there’s all the amazing food,” she says. “I always think first of what my mom would cook for the different holidays. We always try to get home to Georgia to celebrate the major holidays with them.”
Pais has been kept busy with a recent job promotion and has not yet had time to think about a new creation for this holiday season. Good thing she has eight nights of Hanukkah to come up with a solution.
Lucas is a Raleigh-based writer. Reach her at email@example.com.
Mary’s Sugar Cookies
From Maureen O’Neal of Raleigh.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup salted butter, slightly softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon almond extract, divided
4 teaspoons milk
Sprinkles, colored sugar, cinnamon hot candies, food coloring, etc.
Combine flour, baking soda and cream of tartar in medium bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg and 1 tablespoon almond extract. Gradually add flour until well combined. Divide dough into three equal pieces, wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly flour counter and rolling pin and roll dough into 1/4-inch thickness and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes until lightly brown. Remove from oven, place cookies on baking racks to cool.
Combine remaining 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon almond extract and milk to make frosting. Stir until smooth, adding more milk if necessary to reach desired consistency. You can divide frosting and add a few drops of food coloring, if desired.
Decorate cookies with frosting, sprinkles, colored sugar and candies.
Yield: about 30-36 cookies.
Red Stag Bourbon Balls
This recipe is a two-day process. From Christine Chase of Raleigh.
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound plus 1/3 cup powdered sugar, divided
3/8 bar of paraffin wax, shredded
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
50 mini-cupcake paper liners
On the first day, place chopped pecans and bourbon in a glass bowl in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Pecans should be fully submerged.
On the second day, cream butter in a large metal or glass mixing bowl. Slowly add 1 pound powdered sugar. Add pecans until well blended. Place filling in refrigerator for an hour.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper. Fill a large shallow bowl with ice water. Take out filling and place bowl on top of ice water to keep cold while you roll filling into balls.
Put remaining 1/3 cup powdered sugar in a small mound on a large plate. Use a teaspoon to scoop out some of the filling and drop it into the powdered sugar. Coat fingers in the sugar and then roll filling into a ball and coat it with sugar. Place ball on waxed paper and repeat until done. Place the filled cookie sheet in refrigerator to chill balls for about 30 minutes.
Line a second rimmed baking sheet with wax paper. Fill the bottom of a double boiler or a small saucepan with 1 1/2 inches of water and set over low heat on the stove. Place paraffin and chocolate chips in top of double boiler or in a metal or glass bowl that can sit on top of the saucepan without touching the water. Stir frequently until paraffin and chocolate are melted.
Remove balls from refrigerator. Use a teaspoon to dip each ball in the chocolate, covering completely with chocolate, and allow excess to drip off the spoon. Place each ball on the wax paper. Repeat until done. Cool in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Place balls in cupcake liners and store in sealed plastic containers or decorative tins in the refrigerator.
Yield: about 50 bourbon balls.
Gingerbread Rugelach with Cranberry Jam
From Brittany Fishman Pais of Raleigh. The jam can be made up to three days ahead. The dough also can be made ahead and frozen.
For the jam:
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup apple cider
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup water, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 teaspoons ginger
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 cup sour cream
Egg wash (1 beaten egg plus 1 tablespoon water)
Cinnamon and white sugar for topping
Make the jam: Combine cranberries, sugar, apple cider and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Mix 1 tablespoon water with cornstarch to create a slurry. Add slurry and remaining water to the saucepan and bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally. After the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes. Stir and mash cranberries with side of spoon as they cook. Once mixture has thickened slightly, take saucepan off the heat. The jam will thicken as it cools. Chill until ready to use.
Make the dough: Combine flour, salt, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice in a large bowl. Slice butter into 1 inch slices and cut butter into dry ingredients until crumbly. Make a well in the center and stir in egg yolks and sour cream until a dough comes together.
Divide dough into two portions. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and chill for an hour in the refrigerator. (Dough can be frozen at this point.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll one portion of dough into a 12-inch circle. Spread jam over the entire circle in a thin layer. Cut dough into 12 to 14 wedges with a pizza slicer. Roll each portion, starting from the outer edge, into small crescents. Place on baking sheet. Brush each with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake until golden, about 25 to 35 minutes. Cool on baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Yield: about 24 to 28 cookies.