Experimenting in the kitchen is always fun to do, and when you add bourbon to the mix, it may just give you the kick you were looking for.

Local Kris Dunn experiments often in the kitchen with bourbon.

“I like to add bourbon to baked beans, sweet potato casserole, flavor whipped cream with it, and on occasion, add to my sweet tea — plus mint — yummy,” she said.

Kris Dunn

Kris said that adding bourbon to those dishes were just random thoughts that seemed to pan out. The sweet potato casserole is always a big hit with her husband and stepsons, she said.

Bourbon wasn’t used in cooking as she was growing up.

“My mom thinks I’m crazy if I tell her I put bourbon in something.”

Baking with bourbon can get tricky and can often be overpowering if too much is used. Tips from BettyCrocker.com suggest starting with a little liquor and working up to your taste level. The site also suggests allowing enough cooling time for your dish, which will remove the alcohol’s harsh taste.

A USDA study showed that 5% to 85% of alcohol will remain in a recipe depending on the cooking time, according to the website.

The website also suggests that alcohol can be substituted for extracts in just about any recipe. Kris agrees.

“It’s good in sweet and savory things,” Kris said. “Definitely anything that calls for vanilla, you could consider substituting in bourbon. I’m sure there may be times it doesn’t work, but I haven’t found a time like that yet!”

Bourbon is distilled from grain mash that’s at least 51% corn, but usually more, which gives it sweet notes, and may also contain barley, rye and sometimes wheat. The liquor is aged in new charred white oak barrels, where it gets its color and smoky caramel undertones.

The sweet and caramel flavors are what make it great in baked goods.

Finecooking.com says bourbon pairs particularly well with brown sugar, pecans, vanilla, chocolate, mint, apples, pears, peaches, ham and pork. It’s great in sauces, marinades, brines, glazes, cakes, pies, truffles and cookies.

In May, in remembrance of the Kentucky Derby, which was postponed until September this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joy Towles Spencer used bourbon to make her family Kentucky Derby Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.

“They were a great alternative to the actual pie and so yummy,” Joy said. “Of course I used Buffalo Trace Distillery’s bourbon in the recipe.”

Joy Towles Spencer

Joy found the recipe on halfbakedharvest.com and thought it looked a lot easier to make than a Derby pie.

“It was easy to make and everyone raved over it, especially when it was still warm right out of the oven,” she said.

Joy chose to use Buffalo Trace bourbon — which is what Kris typically uses as well in her baking — because it was local.

“I try to be respectful of the fancy bourbons we might have on hand, and not use those,” Kris said.

Finecooking.com suggests saving the single-barrel bourbons like Blanton’s or Eagle Rare and small-batch bourbons like Knob Creek or Basil Hayden’s for sipping. For cooking, a regular bourbon such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Old Crow or Heaven Hill is fine.

If you’re not sure about baking with booze, BettyCrocker.com recommends adding it to your dessert toppings. Start with a basic buttercream frosting recipe and add in your bourbon to give your cakes and cupcakes a kick.

Joy said she definitely plans to make the Kentucky Derby Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars again in the fall.

“I will for sure be making these again in September when the real Derby runs,” she said. “I also found a recipe for a bourbon margarita that I will be trying soon as well.”

Sweet potato casserole (Image courtesy Flickr)

Kris Dunn’s sweet potato casserole

Topping ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup flour

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 cup chopped pecans


Casserole ingredients:

3 cups cooked and peeled sweet potatoes or 3 pounds raw

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 stick of butter, softened

2 eggs

1 tablespoon bourbon

1/3 cup milk



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, butter and pecans for topping and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the cooked sweet potatoes. Add the stick of butter, eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and bourbon. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.

Place sweet potato mixture in a greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

Crumble topping over mixture and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.


Kentucky Derby Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (Photo by Hannah Brown)

Kentucky Derby Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

(Recipe from halfbakedharvest.com)


Ingredients for chocolate chip cookie layer:

 1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) salted butter, at room temperature

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Ingredients for pecan pie layer:

 4 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

¾ cup real maple syrup

1 tablespoon bourbon 

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup raw whole pecans



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper.

For the cookie layer, in a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and beat until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Spread the dough out into the prepared dish in an even layer.

For the pecan layer, in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated. Add the maple syrup, bourbon and salt. Mix until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Carefully pour the pecan mix over the cookie layer. It’s OK if not everything is covered. Transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. It’s OK if the center is a little jiggly. Let cool completely before cutting, at least 1 hour.