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.


~ by eheavenlygads on September 15, 2007.

12 Responses to “Liquor-Filled Sugar Shells”

  1. re:Liquor-Filled Sugar Shells.
    How long can you leave these shells before coating with chocolate. Can I make them a month ahead so they are ready just in time for Christmas. Thank You for all the good information and help you have given.

    SpinningSugar: You must coat these highly delicate shells immediately with chocolate. What will happen ultimately, when you do, is that the potato starch “shell” will dissolve…which it certainly will within hours after removing the shells from the starch. Freezing at this stage is not an option, I know. My recommendation is that you make these no more than two weeks before serving or gift-giving to prevent sugar or butter bloom on the exterior of the chocolate. The good news here is that humidity (once the syrup is made) is irrelevant. Make them two weeks in advance and store the individual shells on sheets of waxed paper layers in an airtight container — this timing has been perfect for me. Good luck, Audrey! And Merry Christmas in advance…

  2. Can I make these shells and leave them in the potato starch until two weeks before Christmas or is it best to store them like you had mentioned on sheets of waxed paper. Also should they be placed in a cool area or does it matter.

    SpinningSugar: No, Audrey, you can’t leave the shells in the starch anywhere near that long. The shell containing the liquor is formed by the reaction between the alcohol and the starch. The longer you leave the embedded shells, the harder and harder they will become, which defeats the purpose. You want a shell that is strong enough to hold together and take on a chocolate coating, but otherwise go unnoticed. I would imagine all the alcohol would be gone and you would have something akin to rocks long before two weeks had expired.

    Dip them in tempered chocolate as soon as the shells are firm enough to take the movement. Then store them on waxed paper or parchment paper levels inside an air-tight container, not touching each other, once the chocolate has firmed. It does make a distinctive difference to store also in a cool area to prevent bloom. Choose a location no warmer than 65 degrees (F), or even refrigerate if necessary.

  3. i make liquer. my friend makes chocolate. we want to promote my liquer using her chocolate…
    can we use this recipe for commercial use ? how long will the chocolates hold the liquer for ? why is this better than filling chocolate “cups” with liquer and then sealing with a chocolate lid on the top ?
    thanx, and if it works, i’ll send you a taste of my liquers…

    SpinningSugar: You and your friend sound like exceptional compliments to each other, Alice. You could make these commercially, but I would warn you on potential expense if you make large batches, only because of the fragility of the sugar shells created by the starch. With enough practice, you can master these and the techniques you will develop in handling them will further aide your success. The easiest way of making liquor-filled chocolates is in using the chocolate-coated cup molds filled with liquor and sealed by more chocolate on top. But these shells will buy you a little extra time before the alcohol seeps through the chocolate and, at very least, begins to soften the chocolate cup. Refrigeration is critical, of course. Speaking personally as a chocolatier and a snobby consumer of same, I would neither offer nor purchase a liquor-filled chocolate more than 24 hours old. And I would strongly recommend you not keep them any longer either. Technically, under proper refrigeration storage, these liquor-filled shells keep exceptionally well for about a week, giving ample time for creation and presentation and the recipient’s consumption. But in offering these as part of a business — by my personal quality model — demands you only offer fresh-from-the-slab (or mold) confections. Otherwise, you will need to use chemical stabilizers and the like to extend the freshness of your product and thereby defeat any edge you may have on your competition in providing the freshest, most natural product available. It all depends upon your business plan, I suppose. But it is very do-able. Good luck to you both!

  4. I have an experimental method of alcohol filled chocolates using gelatine. Fill a cup with about 50grm of warm water (= weight of cup and add water to 50 grms more]. Cut 4 leaves of dry gelatine and add to warm water. Allow gelatine to dissolve stirring it. Add a tablespoon of crystal sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add 10 deciliters of booze and stir.
    Have some melted chocolate ready. Fill a silicone chocolate mould with chocolate. Make sure sides are well coated usinf a small spoon. Turn mould upside down over chocolate bowl and allow to drain, with a slight shake excess chocolate drains out. Place mould in freezer for 5 minutes. Remove from freezer (chocolate should have hardened off). Fill each chocolate to near the rim with the liquid. Replace in freezer for 5 min. Remove. Gelatine should now be firm. Spoon melted chocolate over each chocolate. Replace in freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and gently press out each chocolate from the mould and leave in refrigerator. Repeat process until your mixture is finished. Then enjoy, When you bite into the chocolate, you get the sweet chocolate taste and let the jelly melt in your mouth and you get the full taste of the booze with not too much sweetening. I am not sure of shelf life but kept in a cool place the jelly should stay stable. Experiment for your own strength of jelly.

  5. Thank you for all the wonderful advise.
    Is there any other way to create such a a liquor cup inside a mold rather than molding and then covering in chocolate? As in a cordial cherry situation? Thanks,

    • Yes, there is. Take your molds and coat them with warm, tempered chocolate. I use a half-inch filbert paint brush for this. Build up about a 1/16″ lining of chocolate and chill. Add your filling (for a cherry cordial, add a fondant-covered cherry), then pour chocolate to cover and seal.

  6. I’m afraid my metric skills are lacking with non use, Jean. I will leave the conversions to you, but if the syrup is crystalizing, my bet is you are cooking the syrup to high and too long.

  7. Why not corn starch? Many how to’s call for corn starch and cake flour or straight corn starch? When I used corn starch I got a decent shell but potato starch made it much thinner.

    • You are correct. Potato starch DOES make the shell very thin and it can be a real challenge. But that is necessary to prevent even the slightest hint of the taste of cornstarch or flour. I would suggest you practice using the cornstarch-flour mix. Then, when you get your chops up, switch to potato starch and create a schoolmate-enrobbed shell that will blow your mind in comparison.

  8. Reblogged this on kaykay513.

  9. Does this make a good sugar filled with Kahului for a coffee drink?

    • Ooh, heavens yes! Some experimenting will be required to determine proper time setting the shell in the cornstarch, as Kahlua is thicker than bourbon, for example.

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