Bourbon is incredible on its own, but it really shines when made into cocktails or in desserts. Bourbon has a variety of fruity, vanilla, and caramel notes that really pop in certain recipes. Today, we’ll talk about how to make the most of your bourbon in drinks and desserts and give you a ton of amazing recipes to try out at home.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey made from a base that mostly consists of corn mash. This makes bourbon a sweeter whiskey than something like rye or Scotch, hence why bourbon works so well in desserts. Bourbon also has to be aged in new, charred oak containers, which give it an oaky, woody flavor, which provides an interesting contrast when paired with sugar.
Bourbon is often associated with Kentucky, as the Bluegrass state is where Bourbon was invented. Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon. Bourbon is most popular in the Southern United States and goes well with various Southern desserts, like cobblers.
Bourbon most often has notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel. It’s often extremely pleasant and smooth. Like Maker’s Mark, Bourbons made with a high amount of wheat tend to be more mellow and softer. These wheated bourbons work great for cooking, as their soft flavors blend incredibly well into recipes.
Best Bourbons for cooking
Choosing a bourbon to cook with can be complicated. You want to select something high-quality enough to impart delicious flavors into your desserts, but you don’t want to use up all your top-shelf liquor on food. All the alcohol usually burns off when you’re cooking with bourbon, so what you’re left with is flavor. That’s why it’s important to select a bourbon you really enjoy the taste of.
We’ve compiled some of our favorite bourbons to cook with. They’re flavorful and delicious but won’t break the bank.
Maker’s Mark is a classic bourbon whiskey that offers delicious warm sweetness without bitterness in other bourbons. It uses wheat in its mash in place of rye, which gives the bourbon a smoother, sweeter taste. It’s made slowly in small batches and has warm caramel aromas. It works perfectly in a variety of desserts because of its sweet character and vanilla and caramel notes.
Four Roses bourbon blends up to 10 distinct bourbon recipes for the perfect balance of flavor. It’s crisp yet soft and smooth, with aromas and flavors of fresh fruit such as pear and apple. It’s a versatile, easy-drinking bourbon that works amazingly in various cocktails and is fantastic to cook with.
Evan Williams bourbon offers a rounded, balanced entrance, giving way to a burst of fruit flavor, followed by a grassy green note on the palate. It’s very peppery on the finish, with an aftertaste of oaky richness. It’s an incredibly flavorful bourbon, and you can choose which notes you want to emphasize with the right pairings. This bourbon is slightly more bitter, which cuts through sweet desserts in a very satisfying way.
Wild Turkey 101 Proof
When cooking with bourbon, you want to get a strong bottle, so the flavor can really shine through all the other flavors. That’s why we love cooking with Wild Turkey 101 Proof. It does an incredible job of picking up on every flavor left in the pan while also adding in its own deep, sweet caramel notes. As a result, this bourbon adds depth and flavor to both sweet and savory dishes.
Jim Beam Single Barrel
This is one of the highest quality bourbons from Jim Beam. Jim Beam Single Barrel is full-bodied and incredibly smooth, with luscious oak, vanilla, and caramel notes. This bourbon is carefully aged, with the barrels it ages in being hand-picked by a master distiller. JB Single Barrels adds a pop of flavor to any dessert and is amazing in cocktails.
Our favorite Bourbon recipes
Cooking with bourbon is a fun way to add spice and flavor to various drinks and desserts. We’ve compiled some of our favorite recipes for you to try at home below.
Browned Butter Bourbon Blondies
The title is a mouthful, but so are these blondies (and a delicious one at that.) The gooey, caramelized butter works perfectly with the caramel notes in the bourbon. Everyone will be begging you for this recipe, that’s for sure.
To make these blondies, you’ll need:
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned and cooled
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. In a small pan over medium heat, gently melt and brown your butter until it begins to smell nutty and turn amber-colored. Be careful not to burn it. Remove the browned butter and set it aside to cool.
Toast your walnuts in your preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Once they’re cooled, give them a rough chop and set them aside.
Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine your browned butter and brown sugar until well-blended. Add your egg, bourbon, and vanilla, and mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. Fold in your dry ingredients until just combined.
Fold your chocolate chips and walnuts into your batter, then spread evenly into your prepared pan. Bake until the top is shiny and golden brown, around 22-24 minutes. Let cool, then cut into squares and enjoy.
Caramel Bourbon Milkshake
What’s better than a milkshake on a warm summer night? A milkshake with bourbon in it. This recipe combines cool, sweet ice cream with sweet, caramelly, smooth bourbon for the ultimate sweet treat.
For this recipe, you’ll need:
- 2 cups vanilla ice cream
- 1 ounce heavy whipping cream
- 1 and 1/2 ounce bourbon
- 2 ounces caramel sauce
- 1 pinch salt
- Whipped cream
Chill a tall glass in your freezer. Combine your ice cream, caramel sauce, bourbon, and salt into a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into your chilled glass, top with whipped cream and extra caramel drizzle, and serve.
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
The only thing more Southern than pecan pie is pecan pie with bourbon in it. This recipe takes a Southern classic and adds a kick of bourbon to bring out the caramel flavors in the pecan pie. This recipe is perfect for Thanksgiving, but your friends and family will be asking for it all year round.
For this recipe, you’ll need:
- 9-inch pie shell
- 3 tbsp bourbon
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 2/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Toast pecans on a baking sheet in your warmed oven for about eight minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together your eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, melted butter, bourbon, and salt until blended.
Stir in your pecans to your wet ingredient mixture, then add your chocolate chips. Mix everything together until it’s well-incorporated. Pour the mixture into your pie shell, and bake for 55 minutes, or until the pie is set. Remove from the oven, let cool for 1 hour, then slice and enjoy.
Salted Dark Chocolate Bourbon Fudge
Salt, dark chocolate, and bourbon. There’s absolutely nothing in this recipe not to love. Plus, making fudge is easier than you think.
For this recipe, you’ll need:
- 2 ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ tsp. Vanilla extract
- 13 large marshmallows, cut in half
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 ¼ cup confectioners sugar
- ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. bourbon
- ½ tsp. Flaky sea salt
Line a 9×9 inch pan with foil, then grease with butter or cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together your confectioners’ sugar and bourbon, then set aside. Place granulated sugar, butter, and milk in a large pot, and bring to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Continue to stir while the mixture boils for three minutes. If the mixture froths up too much, lower the heat slightly.
After 3 minutes:
- Remove from heat.
- Add vanilla, marshmallows, and chocolate.
- Stir until the marshmallows and chocolate are completely melted and blended into the sugar mixture.
- Add your bourbon mixture to the pot and stir until blended in.
- Pour into your prepared pan, and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Refrigerate until fully chilled, then cut into squares, and enjoy.
Incorporating bourbon into your favorite drinks and desserts is a great way to add complex flavors. Bourbon is a truly delicious spirit with so much to offer. Try out these recipes on your friends, and we promise they’ll be begging you to make them over and over again.