seared cornish hens with bourbon-mustard pan sauce photo by greg rannells

Bourbon, Butter, Bacon

Bourbon, bacon and butter are a match made in heaven. Bourbon mellows and gets sweeter when it cooks. Bacon adds salty goodness and a wonderful depth of flavor. And butter? It just brings it all home. Sweet and savory, here are some of the best mashups from breakfast to dessert.

How to Cook with Bourbon

Start small
If you don’t want to invest in a big bottle of bourbon for a recipe, you can’t go wrong with tiny airplane bottles. That’s also a great way to test out any liquor to see if you like it.

Savory dishes
Bourbon works beautifully as a marinade or glaze with meats, fish or poultry. Use it to add flavor to barbecue sauces and baked beans.

Sweet dishes
Bourbon pairs well with honey, caramel and vanilla, making it suited for most baked goods. Substitute bourbon for vanilla in cookies and cakes. It’s also lovely in frosting and whipped cream.

Infuse bourbon with vanilla, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom or dried fruits to bring another layer of complex flavor to recipes and drinks. 

Seared Cornish Hens with Bourbon-Mustard Pan Sauce

4 servings

7 Tbsp. softened butter, divided
2 strips bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1∕8 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
2 1½-lb. Cornish game hens
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil, for searing
1 small shallot, minced
½ cup bourbon
¾ cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. whole-grain mustard
4 Tbsp. flour

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a rack or broiler pan on top.
• In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 3 tablespoons butter, the bacon, garlic, mustard, thyme and cayenne into a coarse paste.
• Place the hens breast side-down on a work surface. Use sharp kitchen scissors to cut along each side of the backbone, then remove and discard backbone. Turn over and cut through breastbone to split in two. Using your fingers, carefully loosen the skin and spread the butter mixture under the skin. Season the hens with salt and pepper.
• In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the hens skin side-down and sear until golden-brown, then flip and sear the other side, about 7 minutes each. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat in the skillet and set aside.
• Transfer the hens skin side-up to the rack on the baking sheet and roast until the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes. Place on a serving platter and loosely cover with foil.
• To make the pan sauce, place the skillet with the reserved fat over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the bourbon and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Add the stock and mustard, increase the heat to high and continue to simmer until the sauce is reduced by two-thirds, 5 to 8 minutes.
• In a small bowl, mix the flour and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to make a paste. Add a couple spoonfuls of the sauce to temper the mixture and stir. Reduce the heat to medium, then whisk in half the butter-flour mixture. Add more butter-flour mixture as needed to thicken the sauce.
• Spoon the sauce over the hens and serve immediately.

Bourbon-Mushroom Burgers

4 servings

1 lb. lean ground beef
8 strips bacon, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 lb. wild mushrooms (cremini, shiitake and oyster)
6 Tbsp. butter, divided
½ cup bourbon
Kosher salt, to taste
8 oz. shredded Gruyere
4 brioche buns, toasted

• In a large bowl, mix the beef, bacon, Worcestershire sauce and 1 teaspoon pepper. Divide into 4 even portions, form into 1-inch thick patties and set aside.
• To a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add the mushrooms and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook until the mushrooms are golden-brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the bourbon and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, 4 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and cover.
• Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Swirl the skillet until the butter becomes a deep golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Add the patties and cook until seared and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium doneness.
• Divide the cheese between the patties and cover the skillet. When the cheese has melted, place the patties on the toasted buns and top each with the mushrooms.

french toast blt // photo by greg rannells

French Toast BLT

3 servings

5 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup bourbon
6 1-inch slices challah
12 strips thick-cut bacon
2½ cups grated Gruyere
12 tomato slices (about 3 small tomatoes)
Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
3 cups spring mix

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, heavy cream and bourbon until well combined. Pour in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add the challah and soak 10 minutes. Flip the slices and soak an additional 10 minutes.
• Meanwhile, place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until just crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Spoon off most of the bacon fat from the skillet.
• Add 3 challah slices and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining slices.
• Bake the bread slices until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Top with the grated cheese and bake until the cheese melts, about 4 minutes.
• To assemble, place 2 strips of bacon and 2 tomato slices each on 3 challah slices and drizzle with the vinaigrette.
• Toss the spring mix with enough of the vinaigrette to coat. Divide the greens evenly over the 3 prepared challah slices and top with the remaining 3 slices. Serve warm.

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

1 cup

2 heads of garlic
¾ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
• Slice off the tops of the garlic so the cloves are exposed. Place the garlic heads in a small baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with foil and roast until the garlic is golden brown, fragrant and softened, 20 to 25 minutes.
• Let the garlic cool, then squeeze the cloves into a blender, discarding the skins. Add the vinegar and mustard, and blend until smooth. With the machine running, add ¾ cup olive oil in a steady stream until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

bourbon and bacon doughnuts // photo by greg rannells

Bourbon and Bacon Doughnuts

12 servings

²∕³ cup room-temperature milk
2½ tsp. active dry yeast
3½ cups flour, plus more if needed
1½ cups sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
7 Tbsp. softened butter, cut into pieces
Bourbon pastry cream (recipe follows)
Candied bacon (recipe follows)
Canola oil, for frying
3 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. bourbon

• In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, stir together the milk and yeast, then let sit until the yeast dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the flour, ¹∕³ cup sugar, the eggs, salt and vanilla, and mix on low until combined. Knead on medium-low 2 to 3 minutes, then add the butter a few pieces at a time, mixing until combined and the dough is soft, about 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky, so add a few teaspoons flour to remove the dough from the bowl if needed, then wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
• Meanwhile, make the pastry cream and candied bacon.
• Place the dough on a floured surface. Roll to ½-inch thick, then use a 3-inch biscuit cutter or pint glass to cut out as many rounds as possible. Place the rounds on a baking sheet, cover loosely with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.
• In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat a few inches of oil to 350 degrees. Add the doughnuts 2 to 3 at a time and fry until golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Adjust heat as needed to keep the oil at 350 degrees. (If the oil is too hot, the doughnuts will brown too quickly and leave the interiors raw.)
• Transfer the fried doughnuts to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, roll in the remaining sugar and allow to cool completely.
• Fill a pastry or zip-close bag with the pastry cream. If using a zip-close bag, cut off one corner. Poke a hole in the side of each doughnut and fill with the pastry cream.
• To make the chocolate drizzle, place the chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the heavy cream and bourbon then pour over the chocolate. Cover with plastic wrap until the chocolate is melted, about 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Place the chocolate mixture in a small zip-close bag, cut off one corner and drizzle over the filled doughnuts. Top with the candied bacon.

Bourbon Pastry Cream

2½ cups

½ cup sugar
¼ cup cake flour
½ tsp. sea salt
4 egg yolks
1½ cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. bourbon
¹∕³ cup cold heavy cream

• In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, flour and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and slowly add the flour mixture, whisking until smooth and pasty.
• Warm a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the milk. Cook until bubbles form around the edges, but do not boil. Remove from heat and slowly add the milk to the batter, whisking constantly until smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes, then immediately remove from heat.
• Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl, then whisk in the bourbon. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing until it touches the surface of the cream. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
• Before serving, whip the cream in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form, 4 to 6 minutes. Gently fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream.

Candied Bacon

12 strips

1 lb. thick-cut bacon (about 12 slices)
¼ cup brown sugar

• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
• Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a foil-lined sheet pan. Bake until the bacon just begins to turn golden, about 8 minutes.
• Remove the bacon from the oven and sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Bake until the bacon is crisp and brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool, then crumble into pieces. Store refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days.

bourbon-pear upside-down cake // photo by greg rannells

Bacon-Pear Upside-Down Cake

9-inch cake

¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp. softened butter, divided
2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices
6 strips bacon, chopped, cooked crisp and drained
1¼ cups sugar, divided
½ cup water
1 cup chopped pecans, divided
¹∕³ cup bourbon
3∕4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
¾ cup plain yogurt

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Generously grease a 9-inch round cake pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Arrange the pear slices in an even layer in the bottom and sprinkle with the bacon.
• In a 10-inch stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat, bring 1 cup sugar and the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and maintain a steady simmer. Swirl the skillet (but do not stir) until the mixture starts to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. When the mixture turns a medium amber color, add ½ cup pecans and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then slowly stir in the bourbon and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour over the pears and bacon.
• In a large bowl, beat together the remaining ¾ cup butter, brown sugar and remaining ¼ cup sugar until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and beat until combined. Add half the flour and beat until combined. Add half the yogurt and beat until combined, then beat in the remaining flour followed by the remaining yogurt. (The batter will be thick.) Stir in the remaining ½ cup pecans. Drop spoonfuls of the batter over the pears and bacon and spread evenly.
• Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 15 minutes. Run a knife around the side of the pan and invert onto a serving platter.

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