Liquor-Filled Sugar Shells
Just about everyone has seen those chocolate wee little Jack Daniel’s bottles that when you bite into them, you find are filled with a Jack Daniel’s whiskey-laden syrup. You can make a variation of your own (a century-old technique, by the way), but in doing so you open a huge world of available variations. You can fill your shells with Amaretto, Kahlua, bourbon, various fruit brandies, even wine. I’ve done them for years to the elated astonishment of everyone who has received some. It is a sincerely wonderful gift to offer friends and clients during the Holidays.
While making these filled sugar shells is not really difficult, special care must be taken along the way, most especially when removing the formed shells from the starch form. They are very fragile!
Read over the instructions below, then ask yourself what form shape you wish to use. One of my favorite ways to create the forms is to use plastic candy molds. They come in a myriad of shapes these days, but understand any relief designs will be lost when you dip the formed shells in chocolate. I use 1-inch round and square bon-bon molds that allow me to make ten impressions at one time. And when they are dipped and done, they are easier to eat in one mouthful of sheer delight. An alternate favorite is a wine cork cut in half horizontally, into the center of which I stick a bamboo skewer and use the vertical half-cork as my mold. (Makes a small cylindrical bite-sized shape.)
Making the Forms
Find a large cake sheet pan. One that is 16x24x3 inches is ideal.
Buy about 10 to 12 boxes of Potato Starch (not corn starch) The majority of the potato starch will be used to fill the pan and make impression forms, while the balance will be sifted on top of the filled impressions.
Fill the sheet pan with enough Potato Starch to provide a depth of no less than 1 ½ inches. Now pour that Potato Starch onto some parchment paper-lined cookie sheets (with sides) and place into a slightly warm oven (your lowest setting) for about six hours to completely dry – a critically important requirement. After the Potato Starch has dried, allow it to cool completely, then return it to your large cake sheet pan and spread to an even depth (at least 1 ½ inches).
Place the starch-filled pan in the location in which you will fill the molds and be able to allow to rest undisturbed. This location must be safe from any vibrations or movement of any kind.
Using the molding form of your choice, carefully press the mold into the potato starch to make the indentation. Carefully remove the mold, so that the sides do not cave in — you want a clean, perfect, dust-free impression. Repeat as many times as your container will allow leaving a 1-inch space between your indentations (or the space provided between indentations using a candy mold sheet).
The Liquor Filling
WEIGH and measure 2.2 pounds of white sugar (important)
1 ¾ Cups of filtered water (not distilled)
1 ½ Cups of your favorite booze (bourbon, brandy, Kahlua, etc.)
Place the sugar and water into a large, heavy saucepan over low heat and stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved. Raise the temperature to medium high, attach your calibrated candy thermometer, and cook at a rolling boil until the syrup reaches 246-degrees (F).
Remove from heat and add your liquor. Pour the syrup into a large measuring cup with a pouring spout.
Filling the Shell Impressions
Holding a small funnel in one hand and the syrup-laden measuring cup in another, slowly and carefully begin to fill each impression with the syrup almost to the very top of the impression’s edge. Continue until all impressions are filled.
Using a fine sieve or sifter, dust the tops of each filled impression and continue to do so, covering the filled shapes with at least ½-inch of potato starch.
Now walk away and leave the pans COMPLETELY UNDISTURBED for 12 hours. In the meantime, the alcohol is slowly allowing the starch to form a thin crust. After 12 hours, test the shells by carefully removing one from the starch using a large flatware tablespoon. If the shell cracks, bends or cannot hold together when you pick it up out of the spoon with your fingers, leave the remaining shells undisturbed for another 12 hours and you will be fine.
NOTE: If you move the pan with filled and covered impressions even once, the crust will not form and the shapes will disintegrate. Also be highly mindful of not placing the pan(s) anywhere near any source of vibrations, which will destroy your forms.
When firm, the forms may be consumed as they are. The potato starch is completely tasteless. Remove any extra starch from the forms GENTLY with the lightest of touches with a pastry brush. Pastry pros with air brushing equipment will air-brush the shells in a variety of colors.
Coating with Chocolate (my preference)
Using a spiral dipper and with Tempered Chocolate nearby, gently lift a filled shell and dip into the warm chocolate. Allow the chocolate to drain and place the covered shell on parchment paper and allow to cool completely before handling. Repeat for all filled shells.