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“How long have we known each other?” I texted my mother in law. “Forever!” she joked about our two-year-and-some-change relationship. I sent her a recipe titled Brown-Butter Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies and complained, “Katie said you’ve made something similar. I’m a little hurt.”
Carol admitted she’d tried her hand at brown-butter cookies, and asked if I wanted her to make me some, professing her love for me. A simple, yes, please and thank you, would be the nicer response, but I said something along the lines of, “Hell yes. If it has brown butter, chocolate and bourbon you may as well serve them on a guitar-shaped Star Wars plate at a Saints game.” Because that’s what heaven is probably like.
So I’ve got that going for me.
I wouldn’t dare regurgitate some internet recipe to you, at least not without trying it. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding it on your own should you wish to attempt it. But I wanted to discuss that one ingredient: bourbon. It’s as common as pancakes around here. If you want Irish whisky sauce on your bread pudding, it’s going to taste like bourbon at this house.
Shamefully I have drunk just about anything too thin to eat, but thankfully I have toned it down over the years. I will say, though, my version of a well-stocked liquor cabinet is one of everything and a dozen bourbons. Some are sweet. Some are spicy. Some are like a sweater you wear on the inside. Some you drink when you win, some you drink when you lose. The good ones are neat and the lesser (we don’t buy bad ones) are mixed.
The choice whiskey for me has been Woodford Reserve for a long time, but I’ll stray. Dettling out of Atmore is really great. Clyde May’s is another “Alabama-style” bourbon. There are good things coming out of Colorado these days, and bourbon has become a spirit that reaches farther than the Kentucky state line. I’m OK with that, as long as the spirit of the spirit hangs its hat in the Commonwealth.
Cooking with bourbon is something we don’t take lightly. Mainly because we don’t want to waste it. I remember when I first became interested in cooking. I’d gotten my hands on an Emeril Lagasse cookbook and tried my first fancy chocolate soufflé. The sauce called for Grand Marnier. I was young and dumb and couldn’t afford Grand Marnier, but it was Christmastime, and I’d gotten a pint of Evan Williams black label as a gift. Why not?
The soufflés were perfect. The sauce had a sting to it that may have turned some of you off, but I was proud. I’m not sure Emeril would have recommended it, but I felt I was on to something. At the very least, I was learning that bourbon had its place in the cooking world.
Bourbon goes with sweet stuff because, well, it’s sweet. But it also has that fire to counteract the sweet. Pecan pie was the next thing I tried my newfound bourbon-as-ingredient hand at. Then it was steak marinades with brown sugar.
With peaches, bourbon is exceptional. It’s even better with bananas and ignites well. If you use enough, you can set an entire banana on fire.
I’ve told stories in these very pages of my mother’s Christmas bourbon balls in the past, which she, having never set foot in a liquor store, sent her underage son on a mission to score a half cup from any of my derelict friends. It was a shame all I could find was a fifth of Jim Beam. The point is, bourbon is versatile in the kitchen.
Just the other day we were discussing breakfast. I asked my 9-year-old, Graham, what his favorite pancakes were. Without hesitation, he said, “Whatever kind of pancakes that Katie always makes.” Well, her secret ingredient is Maker’s Mark. It all began a couple of years ago when Katie, wanting to become everyone’s favorite, got up early to make pancakes. Realizing we had no vanilla extract, she turned to bourbon. The kids went crazy for them and we haven’t purchased vanilla since.
Fluffy and thick, sweet and at the same time sharp, there isn’t a better pancake that we know of. The orange zest adds a little bit of sunshine. Powdered sugar, maple syrup or both will get your morning off to the right start, but it depends on the temperature. I like syrup when it’s cold outside and powdered sugar when we serve it with fruit.
Bourbon pancakes, Katie-style
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1¼ teaspoons each of baking powder, baking soda and salt
2 large eggs
1¾ cups buttermilk
½ cup club soda (Sprite works, too)
1 capful of bourbon
A little bit of orange zest
Mix the dry ingredients separately from the wet ingredients, then combine. If you aren’t an expert on cooking pancakes, there are only a couple of rules to live by. First, cast iron is the easiest way to get the result you’re looking for. Just make sure it has reached full temp over medium heat. Secondly, use butter as your grease. Cooking spray won’t do as well in this scenario.
In this recipe Katie uses Maker’s Mark. It has hints of vanilla and imparts a wonderful flavor. They’ve become a frequent request at MacDonald Laboratories’ Lagniappe Test Kitchen.
Sweet or savory, breakfast, lunch or dinner, we can find a way to incorporate bourbon in the Deep South. I’m still waiting on cookies from the north. Carol, get to work.
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