The Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday, and many spectators will be sipping on Mint Juleps — and munching on bourbon balls, the sweet treats that have a little kick.
There are several styles of bourbon balls, says Louisville chocolatier Erika Chavez-Graziano. She describes her version as "a dark chocolate confection; it's a butter-cream center, very creamy, very sweet — and it packs a punch. It's pretty boozy, as bourbon balls go."
And the spiked sweets are good business for Chavez-Graziano's company, Cellar Door Chocolates.
"They're a huge part of my business, especially this time of year," she tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "Right now, we will sell about 800 pounds of bourbon balls, which is pretty big. It puts us at about 30,000 individual pieces."
Since the balls aren't baked, the alcohol from the bourbon isn't cooked off, as it is in many other candies and desserts.
"After eating one, you can smell the bourbon on you for a little while," says Chavez-Graziano.
But that doesn't necessarily mean you should use a high-end bourbon in them.
"I think that those single-batch bourbons are best consumed neat" instead of in a candy, she says. "You would lose the finer nuances of all those wonderful bourbons — you would lose them in the chocolate, and the sugar, and the butter."
Chavez-Graziano uses 80-proof Evan Williams, which she describes as "not a sweet bourbon; it's robust. It's a little peaty, it's perfect when you complement it with sugar and chocolate."
Asked what kind of drink or food to pair with a bourbon ball, she says that one thing comes to mind: the espresso machine at her shop in downtown Louisville.
"Just drop one of your bourbon balls into a cup of coffee," Chavez-Graziano says, "and it's a lovely combination."
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow, which means lots of big hats and Mint Juleps. There's another tradition associated with the race - bourbon balls. They are sweet treats with a kick. Chocolatier Erika Chavez-Graziano has a company, Cellar Door Chocolates that makes bourbon balls in downtown Louisville. She joined us from member station WFPL.
Ms. ERIKA CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: Good morning, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: So could you just tell us, for those of us who don't get to eat them very often, what a bourbon ball is?
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: Sure. Well, here bourbon balls vary from company to company. So I can tell you a little bit about my bourbon ball. It's a dark chocolate confection. It's a butter-cream center, very creamy, very sweet - and it packs a punch. It's pretty boozy, as far as bourbon balls go.
WERTHEIMER: Are they a big part of your business?
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: They're a huge part of my business, especially this time of year. Right now, we will sell about 800 pounds of bourbon balls, which is pretty big. It puts us at about 30,000 individual pieces.
WERTHEIMER: And do you have some sort of an assembly line for making these things?
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: Yes. And they're all hand done, so the process - each bourbon ball is touched about five times before it gets from me to you. And the assembly line consists of molding the chocolates, piping the filling, capping, finishing and finally cupping the product. So a lot of labor goes in, but it's a labor of love.
WERTHEIMER: Would I need something else to go with the bourbon balls? Do you eat something with them or drink something with them?
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: Well, you know, I like a cup of coffee with them. We have - at my shop we've got an espresso bar. And I'll tell you a lovely combination. Just drop one of your bourbon balls into your cup of coffee and it's a lovely combination.
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WERTHEIMER: Now, isn't it true that there actual booze in the bourbon balls and the booze isn't cooked out of them, right? I mean, it's real bourbon that's really still alcoholic.
CHAVES-GRAZIANO: Absolutely. After eating one, you can smell the bourbon on you for a little while. It packs a punch. Now, it's not enough to get you to a point of inebriation of course. But you can definitely taste the bourbon.
WERTHEIMER: So do you use something fancy like single-batch bourbon or...
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: You know, Linda, I think that those single-batch bourbons are best consumed neat. You would lose the finer nuances of all those wonderful bourbons - you would lose them in the chocolate and the sugar and the butter. I use Evan Williams, and that's 80 proof.
So Evan Williams is not a sweet bourbon. It's robust. It's a little peaty. It's perfect when you complement it with sugar and chocolate.
WERTHEIMER: After you've made hundreds of pounds of bourbon balls are you going to actually eat any of the things while the derby's going on?
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: No. I think I won't. I think what I'll stick with are the savory foods at that point. I'll be sugared out.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: Well, good luck with your bourbon balls.
CHAVEZ-GRAZIANO: Thank you, Linda. Thank you very much.
WERTHEIMER: Erika Chavez-Graziano. Her company Cellar Door Chocolates specializes in bourbon balls. They're in downtown Louisville. She joined us from member station WFPL.
Now, the recipe for bourbon balls the way Erika makes them is a secret, but she has shared a bourbon truffle with us. So check our website, NPR.org.
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This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.