Bourbon Balls & Other Cocktail Supper Must-Haves

Bourbon Balls

*Photo by Iain Bagwell

When I was a little girl, I waited every year with great anticipation for the Christmas party that our family friend, Cora-Louise, would give at her effortlessly chic house in the Mississippi Delta. Children were invited to this grown up affair, and we’d deck out in our finest smocked dresses and velvet and run through the house with Shirley Temples and iced cookies in hand while our parents drank Jack Daniel’s or Johnny Walker Red (or in leaner years, Old Charter). I remember the ice clinking in their glasses, cigarettes in hand. We looked forward to that party all year.

The table in Cora-Louise’s dining room was spread with the same menu I still serve at my own Christmas party (see below). Silver trays were laden with thin slices of Virginia ham, homemade yeast rolls, aspics, gougeres, cold shrimp, French cheeses and all manner of sweets. Iced cookies and a beautiful buche de Noel took pride of place, but the kids were always fascinated by the silver bowl piled high with bourbon balls. Because we were mostly under 10, the illicit promise of getting tipsy from something sweet held a special allure, and we dared one another to try this contraband confection to see what happened.

When one of our small compatriots took the plunge and promptly disappeared, we were all atwitter when he resurfaced, sober as a judge but green around the gills. “What happened with the bourbon ball?” We asked. “It’s currently in the front yard,” he replied.

Our childish interest in the silver bowl of bourbon balls has grown up over time. Now, when we attend the same party - nowadays in a different house as hostesses have handed the responsibility down the generations -we can appreciate the bourbon ball for the delectable holiday treat that it is, the perfect alchemy of booze and sugar.

I hope you’ll enjoy Julia’s version of the bourbon ball, found in her book “Julia Reed’s South.” Naturally hers were the very best. And I’ve included Cora Louise’s Christmas Cocktail Supper menu in case you’re looking for new additions to your own holiday party repertoire.

Cora Louise’s Christmas Cocktail Supper

On the Bar

Salted Pecans & Homemade Cheese Straws


  • Jimmy Dean Sausage Balls
  • Gougeres
  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates 

On the Buffet

  • Pickled Shrimp 
  • Baked Brie en Croute, sliced Granny Smith Apples & Carr’s Water Crackers
  • Whole Virginia Ham, sliced
  • Mary B’s Frozen Tea Biscuits
  • Hot Sweet Mustard Sauce
  • Sliced Beef Tenderloin
  • Horseradish Sauce
  • Sister Shubert’s Rolls
  • Blanched Asparagus Tips and Curried Mayonnaise
  • Crabmeat Mornay in a Chafing Dish with Siljan’s Croustade Cups for serving

On the Dessert Buffet

  • Iced Sugar Cookies
  • Porcelain Cutwork Basket of Bourbon Balls
  • Buche de Noel
  • Sliced Seven-Layer Caramel Cake (ordered online from Caroline’s Cakes)
  • Mama’s Chocolate Fudge
  • Lemon Squares

Julia Reed’s Bourbon Balls -makes 16

  • 1 (12oz) box Nabisco Vanilla Wafers
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 1 cup fine chopped pecans, plus more for rolling (6oz package is enough) Better if toasted.
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup bourbon (I like Maker’s Mark)

Place the vanilla wafers in a food processor. Then pulse the wafers until they become crumbled into to a fine crumb. Then place the crumbs in a large bowl and set aside. Next pulse the pecans in the food processor until they are finely chopped.

Next in a large bowl mix together the wafer crumbs, pecan pieces, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, corn syrup and bourbon. Mix well with a rubber spatula and then form them into 1 inch balls.

Roll the ball in powdered sugar or alternatively roll part of the bourbon balls in some finely chopped pecan pieces. This will give you a pretty black and white combination.

Note: the bourbon balls will keep for up to two weeks in airtight container in your fridge.

Like What You're Reading?

Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more. We promise not to spam your inbox!

Blog Categories