Derby Pie Is Pecan Pie for Chocolate Lovers

Photo by Elizabeth Coetzee, Food styling by Stevie Stewart

The world of regional pies is a vast and unique quirk of the United States. It’s the ultimate Americana comfort food, showcasing the tastes of various geographic regions through their recipes. Chess pie, with its silky custard center and sugary top, is a local gem of the South while Shoofly pie, a Pennsylvanian delicacy, shows how Amish communities combined humble ingredients to create something spectacular. One regional recipe, Kentucky bourbon pie (also known as Derby-Pie), is a prime example. The sugary-sweet pie studded with nuts and chocolate is a local Kentucky darling, housing a delicious combination of bittersweet chocolate and toasted nuts—as well as a funny bit of history—all within a buttery, flaky crust.

So what exactly is Derby-Pie? Well, it depends who you ask, and I suggest you ask that question carefully. In short, it’s a nut pie (traditionally walnut, often pecan) similar to a classic American pecan pie. But what sets it apart from the latter is that Derby-Pie is studded with chocolate chips—and some copycat recipes online also season it with a heavy glug of bourbon. The pie was invented in 1954 by Walter and Leaudra Kern at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, and has since become a staple at various holidays and events, commonly served as a centerpiece to mark the Kentucky Derby. But the truth is that we don’t actually know what Derby-Pie is—at least from a recipe standpoint: That knowledge is held by just a few lucky individuals who work for the company.

Despite the family’s attempts at protecting the recipe (and actually trademarking the term in 1969), countless copycat recipes have been developed. In 1987 Bon Appétit was sued by the Kern family for using the trademarked term. Bon Appétit won the battle, but the ruling was later overturned in favor of the Kern family during an appeal. Legal battles continued over the years, targeting various publishers of recipes dubbed “Derby Pie,” and courts have sided with the Kern family time and time again.

So no, I did not develop a recipe for Derby-Pie. In fact, I can’t. I have no idea what the original recipe looks like, and I have no intention to replicate it out of fear. But I did develop an ode to the pie that has become a beloved Kentucky Derby tradition.

My version of [redacted] calls for either pecans or walnuts, an ode to the original pie that used walnuts, and a break from most modern versions that almost exclusively call for pecans. (Although I typically use a mix of the two to harness the best of both worlds.) The key is to toast the nuts prior to mixing them into the filling to heighten their flavor and bring out their nutty qualities. Combined with eggs, brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla, salt, flour, and semisweet chocolate chips—and poured into a parbaked pie shell—the filling bakes into a sugary, fudge-like texture. Think pecan pie meets a molten chocolate chip cookie: chewy, tender, sticky-sweet, and irresistibly chocolaty.

Served at room temperature the pie has a soft texture with pops of contrasting nuts throughout, but served chilled, the pie has a slightly firmer texture not unlike a brownie. In any state, adding a dollop of whipped cream is highly recommended.

While we might never know the true formula of authentic Derby-Pie, my Kentucky bourbon pie recipe can help you achieve something close to the classic—and something indisputably delicious in its own right.

Kentucky Bourbon Pie

Jesse Szewczyk

Originally Appeared on Epicurious

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