I recently purchased a seasonal bread cookbook and quickly spotted a bourbon dinner roll suggested for Kentucky Derby weekend. I loved the concept and soon tried it out. Sadly, the recipe didn't do it for me. They buns weren't soft and buttery enough, and the bourbon flavor came through just faintly, even with 1/2 cup in the dough!
My next attempt was to try my go-to enriched bread dough recipe, keeping the horseshoe crescent shape and bourbon butter glaze of the original recipe. Unfortunately, that didn't work out either. The texture was much improved, but the previously faint bourbon flavor became nonexistent. Seeing that 1/2 cup of bourbon in the dough of the first recipe didn't produce a noticeable bourbon flavor (and that's a lot of bourbon that could have been turned into a Mint Julep!), bourbon in just the glaze with the second attempt wasn't enough, plus the fact that bourbon doesn't usually show up in breads anyways (just Google it, you won't find much), I thought I should try a different approach. That's how this recipe came to be.
Rather than putting actual (precious) bourbon in the dough, I added flavors inspired by the range of flavor within a good bourbon. Honey, cornmeal, orange zest, and several spices add subtle dimensions that come together in a beautiful balance. These buns are soft, buttery, sweet, yet savory. They are somewhat addictive. And while the dough isn't flavored with actual bourbon, the real deal still makes an appearance in the honey butter glaze. It's a tasty, versatile recipe I'll be using more than just one weekend a year.
"bourbon" horseshoe rolls
[For the Dough]
3 cups flour (15oz)
1 cup cornmeal (5oz)*
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper (use freshly ground for more bite)
1/8 tsp nutmeg*
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/4 cup honey (3oz)
1/4 cup butter (2oz)
1 cup warm water (8oz)
[For the Glaze]
2 tbs butter
2 tbs bourbon
1 tbs honey
Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
If proceeding by hand (if not, skip down to #3), stir with a sturdy spoon/spatula until the dough comes together as a shaggy mass. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until somewhat smooth (it won't be perfect, due to the cornmeal) and it springs back when you poke it. This is a sticky dough, so you may need to add some more flour as you go. Try to bear through the stickiness as much as possible, though! It will produce a softer bun. This is my favorite technique for kneading sticky doughs. Once kneaded, form into a ball.
If using a kitchen aid, use dough attachment and knead on no higher than speed 4 until the dough pulls away from the sides. Some sticking to the bottom is okay. Add flour a tablespoon at a time if necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly. Form into a ball.
Oil bowl and coat the ball of dough on both sides. Cover and let rise until doubled, 1.5-2 hours.
Once dough has risen, turn out onto the counter and divide into two pieces. Shape each into a rough ball, then roll out into 12-15 inch circles. Using a pizza cutter, cut the circles into 12 wedges.
Take each wedge and starting with the wide side, roll it up tightly toward the thin point. It is helpful to press down and roll as you are going toward the thin end to get it a bit longer like a rope. Place the crescent on a baking sheet with the thin point on the bottom. (Otherwise, it will pop up during baking!) Pull the ends of the crescent down and towards the middle to form a horseshoe shape. Continue with the remaining wedges.
Cover horseshoes with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about an hour. (At this point, you can also stick them in the fridge overnight. The next day, let them warm to room temperature for about an hour before baking.)
Adjust oven rack to the middle and preheat oven to 350 halfway into the second rise.
Once horseshoes are done with their second rise, stick them in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. (My oven is wonky and doesn't brown things well. Hence the paler color of my rolls.)
While rolls are baking, make the glaze. Melt the honey and butter together over low heat. Remove from heat and add the bourbon. Stir well and set aside.
Once rolls are done baking, remove from oven and immediately brush with glaze. There should be enough to get two coats on each roll.
Transfer rolls to wire rack to cool, or, let's be honest, devour them warm.
Once fully cooled, keep rolls in a sealed bag to preserve freshness.
The cornmeal flavor comes through the strongest. If you're not a huge cornmeal fan (like my husband), you can easily decrease the cornmeal to 1/2 cup, replacing it with an equal amount of flour. (I guess you could take it out altogether and use only flour, but that seems almost a crime!)
For the nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice, you could do a heaping 1/8 tsp for more spice. I wanted the spices to bring a subtle background of flavor to the dough, not to overwhelm it. I could see a little more spice not overdoing it. The orange zest can be heaping too, but it can also overwhelm pretty easily. I found the black pepper (especially freshly ground) adds a nice, slightly lingering bite at an even 1/8 tsp.
The horseshoe shape is fun for Kentucky Derby, but I can't wait to make these 24 rolls on a single sheet pan so that they smush into one another Parker House style. That's my favorite.