Recipes

not derby pie bars

Several awesome things are happening this weekend: babysitting, the promise of assaulting my friends’ eyeballs with my latest hopeless attempt at “fashion” [a jumpsuit that fits perfectly enough now in month eight to only a give off a slight snake-that’s-swallowed-a-goat vibe — Google it. I’ll wait here, cracking up], a party that celebrates both some fight that I guess must be a big deal or something and, if that were not enough, the Kentucky Derby. Needless to say, all excuses to fete bourbon, mint, big hats and horsies are taken seriously around here, especially because it’s finally given me a chance to talk about the deliciousness that is Not Derby Pie.


shortbread crust for bars
well-toasted walnuts

Have you ever had Actual Derby Pie? Created in 1950 at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, the gooey pie is studded with chocolate and walnuts and a splash of bourbon,* a bit like a pecan pie minus the heaps of corn syrup. I was briefly in Louisville a couple years ago, and predictably made a point of trying all of the bourbon (oops) and at least one wedge of this pie. However — please forgive me, Kentucky — I was underwhelmed. It was so sweet and so gooey, I wondered if I could make it at home, thinner, with a little crunchy salt and with more depth of flavor (deeply toasted nuts, brown sugar, brown butter and vanilla, perhaps?). Aren’t Yankees the worst?

proper kentucky bourbon
walnuts and chips

I felt less bad about my desire to riff on a respected classic when learned about the legal issues surrounding the name, which, since 1968, has been a registered trademark of Kern’s Kitchen. While the desire to protect a secret recipe (still mixed today by the single employee who knows the recipe) is totally understandable, the trademark holders have filed so many lawsuits against small and large restaurants and publications that share new and different recipes for so-called Derby-ish pies that the name today is less a symbol of buttery chocolate deliciousness and more for being the most litigious confection in the most litigious country. [See also: mean-spirited censorship pie and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Takedown Hall of Shame”] Am I asking for trouble? Maybe a little. I’ve always wanted to be an outlaw!

gooey layer

Ahem, and so here today are Not Derby Pie Bars, which approximate the flavor and idea of the original pie but in a way we find dreamy — sweet but not exceedingly so, each ingredient chosen for its depth of flavor, ridiculously easy to make and perfectly scaleable and portable for all of your weekend’s festivities, whether they involve goats, snakes, horses, boxers or sunshine.

not derby pie bars
not derby pie bars

* a whiskey that can technically be made anywhere in the U.S. but is most strongly associated with Kentucky, where the best stuff is and is so beloved in the Smitten Kitchen, we consider it a food group

Now taking suggestions for: Food to celebrate boxing matches. Go!

One year ago: Blue Sky Bran Muffins
Two years ago: Spring Vegetable Potstickers
Three years ago: Cinnamon Toast French Toast
Four years ago: Ribboned Asparagus Salad with Lemon
Five years ago: Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing
Six years ago: Black Bread
Seven years ago: Brownie Roll-Out Cookies
Eight years ago: Chicken Empanadas with Chorizo and Olives

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Squash Toasts with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar
1.5 Years Ago: Potato and Broccoli Frittata
2.5 Years Ago: Homesick Texan Carnitas
3.5 Years Ago: Apple Cider Caramels

Not Derby Pie Bars
Adapted from The Washington Post

You can double this in a 9×13 pan (and you should because you’re otherwise not going to want to share) using 3 whole eggs, instead of 2 eggs plus 2 yolks. The bars will be ever-so-slightly thicker, but should not need much if any more baking time. Have a nut allergy? As we discovered earlier this year while making the poor man’s pecan pie, Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie, oats make a fine substitute for nuts in gooey pies, just replace with the same volume of old-fashioned oats and do toast them first. Finally, don’t have a food processor for the crust step? You might have an easier time using softened butter and preparing this cookie-style: cream it with the sugar with a hand mixer, then spoon in the salt and flour, beating until just combined. It might help to chill this mixture a bit before pressing it into the pan, or it might feel too greasy to easily spread.

Yield: 16 2-inch square bars

Crust
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/4 cup granulated (50 grams) or powdered (30 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine

Filling
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces or 130 grams) chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
3/4 cup toasted (always) and coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
Flaky sea salt on top, if desired

Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. A little nonstick spray underneath helps keep the strips in place. (If you have an 8-inch square springform, you can skip this and just butter it lightly.)

Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps — that’s right, just keep running it; it might take another 30 seconds for it to come together, but it will. Transfer the dough clumps to prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

Make the filling: Melt your butter and, if desired, brown it too, by continuing to cook the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown bits form at the bottom, about 5 minutes. Transfer butter to a large bowl and let it cool; you can hasten this along by setting it in the freezer for a couple minutes or stirring it over an ice water bath.

Whisk sugars into butter until smooth, then egg, (edited to add) yolk, salt, bourbon (if using) and vanilla. Stir in flour until just combined, then mix in chocolate and nuts. Pour over par-baked crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt before baking, if desired.

Bake bars: For 20 to 25 minutes, until top is firm and golden. Bars are much easier to cut if you let them cool almost completely, but I suspect there’s little fun in that. Once they’re cool, however, you can easily transfer them from the pan to a cutting board with the parchment paper sling you created. Serve plain, with whipped cream or a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream. Can dust with powdered sugar for extra pretties.

Store at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for longer.

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157 comments on not derby pie bars

  1. Maro

    oh, yum. darnit — i’m already drooling over the future day when i can make the salted choc chunk cookies, and now i have to hold out for this, too?!

  2. Making them for my derby party this weekend in place of your black-bottom pie (which I’ll just make for mother’s day instead!) Deb – What are your thoughts on doubling the recipe to use in a 9×13 size pan?

  3. As the mom of a child with a Class 5 (anaphylactic) nut allergy, thank you so much for giving a substitution. I will, of course, make these the traditional way, for the rest of the family – but it’s really lovely to be able to make an almost identical treat for the nut allergic kid – and not have to say, “Well, instead of this insane looking goodness, you can go get a safe treat from the pantry.”

  4. Megan

    Yes this looks amazing.
    Question – I always wondered if bourbon actually imparts that much flavor? I never keep it in the house, so I always leave it out of recipes, but I am wondering if I am missing out? Would love your thoughts!
    Thanks!

  5. Sorcha

    Yum, Bourbon. But on the subject of the jumpsuit and eighth month pregnancy, doesn’t it make the quarter hourly bathroom trips even more of a pain?

  6. this looks great, especially since it’s more portable than pie! no need to use expensive bourbon when you’re using it as flavoring, though. i’m from ky, and my grandma spikes everything with bourbon. we all just keep a bottle of the cheap stuff in the pantry for baking. but we also put a bit more than 1 tablespoon of bourbon in our pie.

  7. Sally

    These look amazing! And right on time, just as I was thinking about what kind of end of semester treats to bring on the last day of classes for my students.

  8. Heather

    As a born and bred Louisvillian, I am always excited to try a new “Derby pie” recipe. I love the overly sweet gooey original, but I will always go for flavor depth over nostalgia in my own baking, so thanks for this recipe!

  9. Ugh aren’t we the worst? Sorry, Kentucky, I think up North we know how to do it best :) These bars look awesome and I love the browned butter/brown sugar situation you have going on! Also clicked over to your spring veggie potstickers and d r o o l i n g!

  10. Paxmom

    Can’t wait to try these, my hubby will LOVE LOVE LOVE them!

    As for boxing match food, I think something like black & blue berry muffins or tarts and steak tartare – (you know, for the black eyes) or – for that matter – black eyed peas, would be good choices!

  11. Sarah

    Another thank you for the suggestion for a nut substitute. My husband has a nut allergy and I’m always cursing the great looking recipes I miss out on as a result!

  12. Maureen

    As a native of Louisville, I can attest that bourbon is, indeed, a food group. You’re skating on thin ice with the whole “not” thing, Deb, but I am sure that the Kern family will forgive you once they taste these delights. We will be enjoying these shortly!

  13. Sarah U

    Yum! Could I love this site more? The Derby is a long-standing tradition in my family (even tho we don’t drink or bet!) so when I lived in Louisville for 4 years, it was just amazing. You wouldn’t even believe how fast those horses run!! I’ve had my share of THE Derby Pie, and yes, I think it lacks pizazz. I’ve been making my own version sans bourbon since we left KY to go along with our fried chicken, mint juleps, and other Southern fare for our annual Derby party. (Still bummed you can’t buy real country ham in Wisconsin.) I will 100% try these – they look ridiculous!

  14. These look soooo good, Deb! That shot of the chocolate chips just oozing out from the bars – YUM! It’s also refreshing to see a Derby recipe for bars and not pie. Thanks for sharing this one! Also the snake that ate a goat…HAHAHA!

  15. I’ll take it! I’ve never eaten Derby Pie, so the fact that this are riffs of the original doesn’t give me any pause. Anything with chocolate, walnuts, browned butter and bourbon will instantly rob me of any willpower or manners (come to think of it, those four things are excellent in banana bread, too).

    I feel like you’re posting so frequently lately and I love it!

  16. Ellen Miller

    Obviously you never eat my mother’s Derby Pie which was sweet but not cloying. Even though I have her recipe I’ve never been able to duplicate it. Looking forward to trying this ‘lighter” version. But IF you leave out the bourbon — and I’d suggest Elijah Craig or Evan Williams — the recipe shouldn’t have the word “Derby” in it’s title!

  17. Susan

    I like the way you diffuse a Yankee vs Southern food bastardization by owning it right up front! I admire that.
    I have never had a piece of chocolate pecan pie, which is basically the formula for Derby Pie, isn’t it?. I cannot fathom the combination of sweet pecan filling with semi sweet chocolate. Milk chocolate, maybe, but semisweet seems like it would taste too bitter by comparison. Does it leave a sort of bitter aftertaste or is it just my imagination that it might?

  18. Gretchen

    Teeny tiny correction from someone who grew up a town over from Prospect – I don’t think the original recipe had any bourbon in it and the current one definitely doesn’t (http://www.derbypie.com/assets/files/KK_DP_specsht09_10pk_v2_email.pdf). That said, I’m never going to say no to a bourbon addition (though I do agree with a comment up top that your quality of bourbon when baking makes little difference). The Gravy episode about the Derby Pie recipe(s) and controversy is super great if you want more background!

  19. Leah

    Presumptuously responding to Susan (#34 above): It was only after the addition of semisweet (sometimes I even do bittersweet) chocolate to the filling that I became able to tolerate the treacly sweetness of pecan pie. It’s a nice push-pull, in which the chocolate doesn’t taste bitter so much as salty and dark, and the contrast somehow it brings out a depth of flavor in the other ingredients that pure sweetness tends to mask. Just one woman’s opinion :)

    Deb, any hacks for turning light brown sugar into dark brown? I tend to keep only LB in the house, but I do notice a difference in flavor for dishes like this when light is used instead of brown. Thanks much! (Also: kudos on the jumpsuit…I [due next week] tried on a romper a bit ago, but it just made me look like Humpty Dumpty at Coachella…)

  20. Susan

    Thanks for the flavor profile, Leah. I like that salty and dark is what you tasted rather than a lingering bitter chocolate. I can do salty-dark!

  21. Diana

    I second Gretchen- the Gravy podcast episode on Derby pie was excellent. I also learned there that Kern’s Kitchen’s recipe uses walnuts- until then I’d thought all Derby pies were just chocolate chip pecan pies made occasionally with bourbon. Can’t wait to try these bars!

  22. deb

    Kate — Perfect.

    Megan — At 1 tablespoon, it’s definitely subtle. I might have gone up to 2 if not expecting and, you know, sharing with the 5 year-old (begrudgingly) for a more pronounced flavor, i.e. for a grown-up party. However, with this and any booze in a recipe, it’s really about how much you like it. If you love bourbon (guilty as charged), you’ll like the subtle hint of it here. If you can take it or leave it, no reason to bother adding it. And certainly not to go out and buy some just for this… unless you wanted to make some slush punch this weekend too. :)

    Jessica — Thank you.

    Sorcha — Oh god, I hadn’t even considered that! What was I thinking? (Fortunately, this is one of several during-and-after purchases I’ve made this spring, so if it’s too annoying, I’ll just save it for fall. When my baby belly will be flat again! HAHAHAH ugh.)

    Alison — Yes, hand mixer is fine. Directions in the head notes.

    Gretchen — I love Not Derby Pie! I actually kept trying to work a reference to the blog into this post, but it didn’t work.

    Gravy podcast — I’d never heard of this. I will check it out.

    Susan — I’m with the above commenters; I think the semisweet chocolate is essential here because this is a gooey pecan pie-like layer and it helps to check the sweetness wherever you can. But I might be less sensitive to bitter stuff than others; I actually love bitter foods. (Munching on the first batch of walnuts, which I over-toasted, right now…)

    Leah — Theoretically, if dark brown sugar has 1/4 cup molasses for 1 cup white sugar while light brown sugar has 1 1/2 tablespoons for the same amount, it would seem that you could just stir in another 2 tablespoons molasses to turn light brown into dark. You gave us a big belly laugh. I have no doubt I look ridiculous, but I try to just look in the mirror front-on these days, which almost makes me look normal. ;) And omg, next week! Very excited for you. Hope everything goes smoothly.

  23. Sarah Beth

    These look amazing and I plan to make them boy style (with nuts!) and girl style (no nuts!) ASAP.

    I really just commented to say that I, too, am expecting a little delivery a few months after you, Deb, and for my whole first trimester I was waiting to buy that cute ASOS dress you bought, bc I am a superstitious jew who refuses to buy anything maternity or baby until it seems safe from the evil eye (my russian great grandparents really rubbed off on me!) Anyway, it’s sold out now and my rapidly expanding waist is so sad.

    1. deb

      Sarah — I haven’t even worn it yet, but would be happy to send it to you (unless you’re a size XS, in which we can’t be friends anyway, heh) mid-July! (P.S. Am usually equally superstitious, but at 5 months, was weak at the prospect of a $27 dress that didn’t look like a tarp.)

  24. Sarah Beth

    oh man, that would be amazing! This is my first time around, and the biggest maternity clothes lesson I’ve learned is to buy fast– everything sells out much faster than normal clothes! I think I’ll just be at needing real maternity clothes by July!
    Also, thank you a million times over for the kale salad recipe in your cookbook– it’s basically all I want to eat anymore.

  25. These looks incredible! Great as a naughty picnic snack… not much of a fan of bourbon though… (used to nic it from my parents liquor cabinet when I was 16 and can’t touch the stuff now :S)… Do you think brandy would be a good substitute?

  26. Theresa

    Forgive me, because I’m reading this on my phone and may be missing it, but you state for a pan of 9×13 bars, we should use 3 while eggs instead of 2 eggs and 2 yolks. However, the recipe states only one egg and one yolk. Should it only be 2 eggs in the double batch, or is the single recipe incorrect? Thanks…LOVE your blog!!

  27. Kori

    Hi! Having lived in Kentucky for quite some time, I take issue with bourbon being listed as an optional ingredient. It is not. Derby Pie or rather “Kentucky Horserace Pie” etc. is made with black walnuts (not English, and certainly not pecans) whose earthy flavor lends complexity to the pie. They are soaked in bourbon, then drained which diminishes the chalky bitterness of these local nuts, and lends the filling a pronounced bourbon flavor. This pie can be really delicious if it is made lovingly rather than by an overly litigious company. I prefer a filling of cream, brown sugar, and egg which ends up more caramel sticky than pecan pie-like. But that’s personal taste.

  28. Earlene

    Again, Deb thanks for helping me put off the diet dilemma!! I’ll just eat a salad before eating this, should balance out the calories??!!! :)

  29. Utterly delightful! Deb, you do laps around me with your command of the history. Just thrilled you found a version of these with SK-appropriate bells and whistles. We’ll be making them this weekend in your honor. Enjoy that jumpsuit!

  30. Cristina

    looks delicious and I love seeing the Basil Hayden! Basil is actually my husband’s great-great-great (however many greats) grandfather.

  31. Hillary

    While I no longer live there, I can vouch for the fact that Louisville is a great food city. I am so delighted to see it getting the love it deserves. <3

    However, I should point out that the link you provided is for an event in St. Louis…not Louisville. Where were you when you were in the River City?

  32. Jetagain

    The jumpsuit. Very attractive on the model but is it difficult to answer the “call of nature”–especially when haste is of the essence? I’m definitely making these bars!

  33. Geri

    What an awesome looking dessert! Had my mind made up for “blondies” this weekend but your “not derby pie bars” won out. Know they will be so yummy. I’ll have to freeze some or I might need your jumpsuit! Love your recipes so much plus your intros. Always entertaining and informative.

  34. Theresa

    Ignore my comment…I’m an idiot. Note to self: don’t comment on a recipe in the evening when you’re exhausted from keeping up with 4 kids.

  35. Kate

    Printing recipe as I type! I am so making these this weekend. I feel like I have to . . . And also, I’m so with you on the boxing match. Why is there so much hype?

  36. Kristen

    Hillary, Deb was in the Ville at the Main Library with her cookbook tour. A great time, and she talks just like her recipes are written :)

    I have a Louisville’s native’s recipe (sans bourbon–she said she always served it as the drink with the pie) and I’ve found that semi-sweet with a mix of pecans and walnuts gives me the best taste. I like it more than Kern’s–However, litigious as they are, they are a locally owned independent business and that deserves some props! Am staying away from the track this year.

  37. I’ve made Derby Pie for years (since 1971). We lived there for 6 years and went to the Derby every year. I have my version of KDP on my website with some old backless pictures of me on a ladder in the infield looking for a horse on the biggest race day of the year. I’ve never tried making my recipe in bar form. Sounds interesting.

  38. Impressed that you are still wearing non-maternity clothes this late in the game. I could barely make it thorough my first trimester in regular attire and by the third trimester I was outgrowing my first batch of maternity clothes. (I didn’t even gain that much weight, but boy did I look huge.)

    For the boxing match, how about smashed potatoes or other foods that have been mashed, bashed and bruised?

  39. deb

    Theresa — 1 egg plus 1 yolk doubled = 2 eggs plus 2 yolks. But there’s no reason to use 2 yolks; you can instead use a 3rd egg. Hope that makes it more clear.

    Louisville event — Link now fixed, thanks. It was a fun event! And I think the last official one of the U.S. book touring. Which is what led to me having too much bourbon that evening, oops. :) Anyway, I loved book touring and meeting people and hope I get a chance to with the next book, whenever it might be done…

    Boxing — Actually, I love a good boxing match. But, the more I’ve read about this one — one guy, either really truly “afraid of needles” or with a major doping habit vs. a well-documented domestic abuser — bleh. Not to be a total downer, but would be more excited if there was someone to actually be excited to root for.

    Beth — Cuuute. I don’t usually freak out over animal videos and pics, but some wires have definitely been crossed this pregnancy and I swooned so much over this last night, I legit asked my husband if there was any chance this might instead be a puppy? (I know, probably should have paid better attention in bio.) (Seriously, though, how mini-human are those eyes?)

    Lindsay — I would like to thank fashion for deciding to make relaxed-fit elastic-waist pants, dresses and jumpsuits all the rage this spring. I promise, this is never going to be a shopping or fashion blog, as I’m not terribly into either, but I’ve done so well with a few recent purchases such as that jumpsuit (also this and this, which runs huge, both caught on sale) that I mostly want to throw them out there in case some other preggos are hoping to get by with more during-and-after type purchases. That said, I bought a pair of stupidly overpriced maternity leggings and a couple pairs of jeans early on, but had avoided shirts, mostly wearing longer ones I had, until a couple weeks ago. And, I’m only at 30 weeks, so I don’t expect these to make it to the end, but if they fit now, it’s a good sign that I’ll get use out of them while waiting for everything to snap (ha ha HA) back into shape late this summer and fall. ;)

  40. MaggieToo

    I’m sure i’ll never make these bars, as I dislike everything pecan-pie-ish, but have to commend your bravery in sporting a jumpsuit that zips up the back when I’m sure you’re having to pee every three minutes. AND that perforated crepe dress you linked to is super sweet — hope you bought the coral color which would doubtless look terrific with your coloring!

  41. Kathleen

    So, I was talking to my mom this morning and mentioned that I saw these and was planning on making them. She said, “Let me know how they turn out and then send me the recipe.” I mentioned they were from you, and she said, “Never mind. Just go ahead and send me the recipe.” You have won over my mother, which is really rather impressive. (Seriously. I don’t think I’ve made a single thing of yours that hasn’t been life-changing.) Thank you so much for providing such consistently excellent recipes and sharing them with us out in Internetland!

  42. Veena

    I just took out a batch of your well loved “Blondies-infinitely adaptable” from the oven; the updated version of it with brown butter + dark brown sugar + chopped up dark chocolate + walnuts. Doesn’t it sound like that blondie is sitting right inside this crust?

  43. Jacque

    I make “THE PIE” every year for the run for the roses. Nope, not this year ’cause I’m making these Not Derby Pie Bars! Thanks for the recipe, I can see it will be delicious. Happy Derby Day!

  44. Sam

    I’m glad you mentioned Floyd Merriweather’s history of violence against women. Good snacks or not the idea of watching a man who beats women box for entertainment makes me sick.

  45. Tawni

    Deb, this look delicious! And where you got your white plates? I have seen them many times on here and have been trying to find good, basic white plates, which it turns out, is quite difficult!

  46. Hello! I recently discovered your website so thought I’d say hi and, yum, what a delicious looking recipe! I love the mix of ingredients, and the flaky sea salt detail on the top. I also love your witty writing style, it’s really enjoyable to read; looking forward to reading more :)
    x Sam

  47. Sam

    *Mayweather* sorry, my internet is slow. Anyway just meant to say that the cookies look awesome, but perhaps for the sake of the women this guy abuses and the kids who have to watch we should pass on this fight.

  48. Katie

    Deb – thank you for everything including introducing me to spaghetti squash and making one-pan risotto a staple in our house. Can I make this same recipe but put in a pie dish – any modifications needed? Celebrating neighbor’s bday tomorrow. Thank you in advance!!

  49. As a native Kentuckian, surely I’m allowed to say that you’re so right about Derby Pie…even if y’all Yankees are the worst. I think of it as one of those desserts like “Jell-O No-Bake Cheesecakes” and “Cherry Pie” (canned cherry pie filling dumped into a graham cracker crust) that belong at potluck dinners in the church basement, alongside the buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Eh.

    It’s possible you have redeemed it here.

    BTW, I noticed in the Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook they had a recipe called “Derby Pie,” which had nothing at all to do with the derby pie we all know and feel very ho-hum about. What’s up with that?

  50. OK, I’ve now got a double batch of these bars baking in my oven! I’m a Louisville native and remember your visit: March 27, 2013. Not because I was there but because I missed it! I went into labor and had my son early the next day. So I can’t complain, but I really wanted to meet you!

    Thanks for this recipe. These bars will make an appearance at our family’s Derby party tomorrow.

  51. Ann Marie

    Just google searched for a derby pie filling (I use mini fillo shells, which make them perfectly two-bite sized) and yours wins this round due the coincidence that I too will be in the midst of this horse race + boxing match phenomenon. I had to go back and look at the date posted after reading your first paragraph, it sounded too ‘hey this is what’s happening now!’

  52. These look phenomenal – I must admit that as a New Zealander I have never heard of Derby Pie, but the combination of gooey butter, sugar, chocolate and walnuts sounds like something I need to attempt! And thank you for adding the 9×13 inch tin substitution – with 4 boys in our family more is just about always better!

  53. Kelly

    I saw your recipe a few hours before I had a girls night out, I had all the ingredients so I gave it a whirl….Hands down the hit of the night. Everyone wanted the recipe, thanks I love your blog!

  54. Liz

    These look wonderful! I am SO trying them this weekend. i love that it will be like a less sweet pecan-pie type thing. I love pecan pie but sometimes it hurts my teeth. ;)

  55. laughing girl

    Hi Debs, how to do you manage to cut those bars so evenly? Is there a special trick you use? My cut bars come out really wonky… still tasty though…

  56. anne
  57. susannah

    Made these today to take to a Derby party — I did, of course, double the batch so I could put a few squares back for later. What I found when doubling, combined with the fact that I baked in a Le Crueset enameled pan, was that it took about 20 minutes for the crust to get a bit brown (instead of 15), and it baked for 28 minutes. I’m willing to assume that my mileage varied due to the pan I used, and/or my oven possibly being ‘off’ – but the final result is indisputable. I have my grandmother’s Derby Pie recipe (From a Southern Living cookbook, possibly from before the copyright, since that’s what its been labeled as) that I wrote down in the 70s, since it was one of my favorite pies she made. This may be by new favorite though – since it’s easier to serve/eat/portion plus hers didn’t have bourbon in it. :)

  58. charmbakes

    Ahem. I promise to get around to making this Un-derby confection this weekend. But I have a burning question which, if not answered, prevents me from making these bars: What is the knife pictured above?
    Thank you. Always enjoy the recipes I choose to make from your site.

  59. Carlin

    Hi Deb! I have these baking away in the oven and am so excited to see how they turn out. As much as I love your blog, and as much as I love ALL of your recipes, I’ve never before commented. I’ve been a loyal follower since 2008 or so. Many congrats on all your success!
    I had to redo the crust when I made these as the first go round produced more of a “shortbread bubble.” I remeasured much better with the flour (prob under measured the first time) and actually handled the dough less the second time, so it came out perfectly after the first bake. The batter had a chance to sit since I baked two batches of the shortbread, and appeared thicker than what your pictures reveal when I poured it over the shortbread base, but after a few mins in the oven it looks good to go. Can’t wait until they’re all cut up and served with vanilla ice cream. They come out of the oven in a few minutes and they look fantastic!
    Happy Derby Day!!!

  60. Jill Arden

    So good. Liked these much better than the Derby Pie knockoff I tried last year. I liked the toasted walnut flavor, helps cut the sweetness. And, yes, you could taste the hint of bourban!

  61. nancy

    Deb – We make “the pie” ay our deli in Louisville. We also brush bourbon on top as soon as they come out of the oven.

  62. Laceflower

    Apparently you missed the boat on predicting the Princess Baby this weekend! I was going to bake cookies but I think I’ll back these instead, look so good.

  63. Claudette

    making these tomorrow!

    But thank you commenter Beth,from above, for the animals licking windows link. So funny! It also led me to (and thematically appropriate for Deb) to “totally cliche newborn photo shoot – with a dog” and I actually cried with laughter.

  64. Karol

    Thank you for this delicious recipe. I made these today for a derby party and won a prize for best dessert!! They were a hit!!

  65. Lynn

    I clicked over to see the jumpsuit (snake swallowing goat) and had a giant hit of nostalgia because 35 years ago JCrew was my go-to fashion. Suffice to say, after two kids who are now 25 and 21, I’m not fitting into any version of their clothes these days. Which made me laugh when I logged into my facebook page tonight and found the JCrew jumpsuit on the side. Thank you for not only go-to AMAZING recipes but so much laughter.

  66. Karyn

    This popped up in my Facebook feed just in time! I had searched online for a recipe, but none of them were looking like anything I wanted to make. You, I trust! So I made them yesterday for a Derby party and they were a huge hit. Thank you!

  67. Ruth

    Made these to bring to an all day work retreat as our lunch dessert. Luckily I doubled the recipe because these were gone in a flash. I’ve had a few other “not derby pies” but none as delicious as these. I highly recommend browning the butter as Deb suggests. It really takes this dessert to a whole different level. I have yet to make any recipe from Deb that isn’t easy, delicious and a keeper.

  68. Jen

    These were divine – and easy to make for a non baker like me! I’ll do a second attempt real soon. Just for clarification purposes (as i said, non baker here)when we add the egg in the filling round – we add all the egg – the egg and the yolk – we’re not doing those in separate actions, right? They seemed to come out right ( i should have baked a tad longer, but will next time)

  69. Kathy

    Perfect timing on these for our Derby party! The filling is amazingly delicious. It tastes like browned butter toffee. The cookie crust retained its texture well, which is something these sorts of bars have difficulty doing. I will note, all of these were gone very shorty after bringing them to the party. Excellent recipe. I will note that rye whiskey didn’t seem to hurt in place of bourbon.

  70. These are insane! We made them last night for a southern themed dinner with friends. We may have added a liberal amount of bourbon and made them a touch boozy, but hey, why not!? We also were quite liberal with the chocolate chips which made them much gooier, but so decadent and delicious.

  71. Sydni

    Made these with TJ’s gluten free flour and Earth Balance, and they were fantastic! I’ll use a bit less salt next time, but yummmmmmmm. Thank you!

  72. E

    I made this yesterday for a group watching not the derby but the big fight. They were SUCH a hit, including with one Louisville native who recognized them as derby pie immediately.

    I did have trouble pressing the crust into a parchment lined pan, it just slid around everywhere! I pulled it out and just pressed directly into sprayed pan and there was no problem getting the bars out once they were cooled.

  73. Lexi

    I grew up in Prospect about a mile from The Melrose Inn. I have delicious memories of real Derby Pie, and some nightmares of a few well meaning knockoff attempts by enthusiastic bakers. I have to say, Deb, I think the pie from the Inn was MUCH better than the subsequent ‘mass marketed & shipped versions’. I don’t know why, since it is supposedly the same recipe. Anyway, I really liked your version, but think the following changes helped:

    * omit the vanilla extract – not needed as the bourbon is your flavoring
    * add 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
    * 2-3 tablespoons of chopped Heath bar toffee gives a lovely depth
    *salt on top was unnecessary for us

    I am sure you are absolutely darling in your jumpsuit, and THANKS for the recipe.

  74. Sally

    LOVED these. I actually loved the topping batter even more than the finished product – nothing beats browned butter! I baked these for 23 minutes and would bake for 21 next time. Thanks!

  75. Erika

    Lexi – yes! The Derby pie at the Melrose (RIP) was to die for. Served slightly warm with whipped cream.

    These bars look amazing and I’ll definitely be making them!

  76. Leah

    I’ve been attempting my own “Schmerby Pie” since spending a few years in Louisville and it has always eluded me. The pie would turn out to be either a weird texture or totally cloying. I made this filling (with a nip more bourbon) and put it into a par-baked pie crust for the allotted time, and it was absolutely. perfect. Thanks for making my Derby Day a success!

  77. These look amazing, and I never knew the history behind their name. I love to watch the Kentucky Derby each year, and these will be perfect for my next Derby party. Probably going to have to try them out before! :)

  78. deb

    Lisa — I’m not sure what happened. Did it just look weird as it was baking and set up fine in the end, or did something else happen?

    laughing girl — A mix of mild OCD, a ruler and also these really do cut very cleanly when cold so it’s worth chilling them for a little bit before cutting. Ah, and one more thing, although I didn’t find it necessary for these, for YEARS people have left comments telling me to use a “hot wet knife” or a “knife dipped in hot water” to cut cakes cleanly and I was all (to myself) “la la, I’m sure it doesn’t make a difference.” Silly Deb. It makes a huge difference. I tried it when making this cake a couple months and I think the proof is in the pictures. :)

    Rosa — Bourbon vanilla extract would be delicious, although it’s not the same as bourbon plus vanilla. From Wikipedia: The majority of the world’s vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighboring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia… i.e. bourbon vanilla extract is just a type of vanilla, unless you’re making your own vanilla extract with bourbon, in which case, I salute you.

    Jen — Whoops, I finally see what was confusing people! The instructions are not clear, but yes, you should add the egg AND the yolk at that point. Now fixed. I do expect the recipe to be forgiving, however, if someone didn’t interpret it correctly.

    Charmbakes — It’s a santoku knife from Wusthof. A few years ago, they had a line with white handles that I think they’ve since discontinued but I freaked out over them and bought one before they were gone.

    Tawni — The white plate is an appetizer plate, I think, from Crate and Barrel. That said, I bought a few packs of these recently for desserts and party snacks when we have people over. Because you know how you use the plates for dinner and don’t want to be scrambling to do dishes? It solves that problem, inexpensively, and Duralex has been making these plates forever so I figure I can always get replacements when they inventably break.

    Anne (and Lynn) — Oh god, it’s perfect. I have SUCH a love/hate relationship with the brand, which I’ve been wearing since college regardless. It’s so overpriced and I feel always like its silently judging me for having curves and not being shaped like a 10 year-old boy or aspiring to look like Jenna Lyon and yet, I still find stuff that works there that’s not just polyester and other terrible fabrics, ugh. Anyway, thank you.

    P.S. The jumpsuit worked out great, so comfortable, and I have now mastered the art of self-zipping; the 3-inch sandals I decided to wear with it, what was I thinking?!

    Preggos — I promise, this is still not now or ever going to be a fashion blog, but I am also currently obsessed with this cute spring/summer dress, and you “get” to order it 1 to 2 sizes down. (Thanks, Old Navy!)

    Royal baby — CAN YOU IMAGINE having to get out of bed and dolled up for cameras hours after giving birth? Even with the gorgeous custom-made dress, hair stylist, makeup, weird outdated notions of royalty, “new welfare queen” jokes, etc, I had nothing but sympathy for KMid at that moment and what the world expects from her. (Me too! I mean, you know I was watching along at home.)

  79. laughing girl

    I’m in awe – you use a ruler…That never crossed my mind. I bow to you, oh queen of all baked goods.

  80. Norah

    I was so excited to make these to bring in to rehearsal tonight but I think I either got the ratio for the crust wrong or missed something. I baked the crust for 15 minutes but it was bubbling and not set. I used cold unsalted butter and 1 cup of oat flour with the sugar and salt. Any suggestions?

  81. c stone

    I made these bars exactly per recipe….Love these! Hubby said these go in his all-time favorites! Thanks so much!

  82. Nancy

    I made these exactly as written EXCEPT I forgot to add the flour to the top layer! This was realized about halfway through the baking. Too late to turn back, but I shouldn’t have worried (or admitted the error to anyone). They were delicious and held together on top once cooled completely. I might just leave out the 6T of flour next time on purpose!

  83. Marie

    These bars made me ridiculously happy, they worked really well and were delicious! I used mascavada sugar as the brown sugar, gave it a lovely coffeey touch.

  84. PatW

    I’ve had Kern’s version, and was , frankly, not impressed with it. I’m a native Kentuckian, living in New Jersey, and make it on a fairly regular basis. I prefer pecans to walnuts, although I’ll occasionally get traditional and use the latter. And definitely more bourbon– 1/4 cup in my recipe. I’ll turn it into bars like these for finger food occasions.

  85. Oh my. They look heavenly Deb. Really, they do.Good thing I decided to buy another five big files today, because I’m just about to add these to my already bulging collection of Smitten Kitchen recipes.

    As for boxing themed food – I can’t think of something right now but I’ll get back to you on that. Will that be okay?

  86. Mindy

    Repeating comment 125, if you forget to put the flour in the topping, don’t throw them out. They will be gooey, but definitely still edible. I omitted the salt because my husband doesn’t really care for salted baked goods, but I would definitely include it next time, as the filling is very sweet.

  87. Megan

    These are so good, and really easy! So rich, so delicious, it’s all I can do not to eat them all. Glad I’m taking them to a party, or I would eat them all! I love baked goods that call for bourbon and then actually taste like it. I didn’t have the flaked salt for the top, but it would have made them even better.

  88. Liz

    Made these for a family reunion on Derby Day, and despite my desperate attempts to screw it up (misreading 6 T browned butter as 8 T, and then correcting my mistake by adding ANOTHER 2 T melted butter to my browned butter(??), and finally measuring my melted/partially browned butter by weight to get approx the right amt), they were great. They were devoured long before dessert was “officially” served. Thanks for another great recipe!

  89. Julia

    These were a hit! So easy, so fast, so straightforward and so delicious. The extra-pretties-sugar dusting on top makes these bars look fancy and elegant in that way where you can pretend they aren’t THAT bad, meanwhile they secretly still hold their buttery and sugary goodness. Thanks!

  90. Greta

    Thanks! I’m from Louisville and we always have people over for Derby. We didn’t this year, because we were invited to a huge party, but I made these bars the next weekend. They are wonderful!

  91. Mina

    Made it today. Used chopped Valrhona bittersweet chocolate, pecan and double the bourbon. Superb. The crust took about 20 minutes in my oven. Next time, I will try adding heavy cream to the filling based on the comments. Thanks.

  92. susan

    Do you actually read all these posts? Well I just made them for guests tomorrow, as written, and have already trimmed off all the edges for myself. Good freaking grief. So delicious. How can you do this?

  93. Megan

    I meant to write this right after I made these, but completely forgot. These were AMAZING! (I wrote above asking if it was okay to omit the bourbon). I did omit and they were fantastic and a huge crowd pleaser (even among those who “don’t like sweets:). Side note: I never understood that one. Anyway, thanks so much!!!!

  94. F

    I’m making these today for the third time (not third time in a single day, though!). A little heavier on the bourbon (I don’t like drinking it, but the flavor is amazing) and pecans, a little lighter on the chocolate. They have a tendency to disappear as soon as I turn my back!

  95. Margaret

    Random question: There is a Thanksgiving bake-off in my office. Do you think this would be a good recipe in lieu of a whole pie, which would need to be sliced on site?

  96. Margaret

    Second place! (I was beaten out by a chocolate caramel cake. I understand that.) So delicious! I added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon to the filling as well which went very nicely with the chocolate!

  97. Melanie

    Made these for New Years Eve last night and they made a crowd of Italians swoon, so you know they’re really good! Walnuts are crazy-expensive in Italy and pecans are non-existent so I used toasted hazelnuts, and in lieu of chocolate chips I chopped up a Lindt 60% bar. Really delicious.

  98. Leslie

    I’m going to make these today for a group who LOVE chocolate. I was considering adding cocoa powder to “up” the chocolatiness(is that a word). Do you think that might work?

  99. Terri

    Made these for a super bowl party and they were amazing. Toasted pecans are a must! These and the blondies are my go-to quick dessert recipes and never fail to impress!

  100. Jen

    ok – these are in the oven – after all, it’s Derby day so you need Not Derby bars. I was trying to think all year why i used my seldom tapped bottle of Elijah Craig… these are the answer.

  101. Anne

    Thanks for another great recipe! Made these this morning for a Derby party later today and they are perfect! I made them in a 9 x 13 and didn’t have quite enough pecans to double the amount so I added a little bit of oatmeal to make up the difference. The combo of both is fantastic! Let’s see how many I eat before taking them to party…

  102. Andrea

    Doubled the recipe. Followed directions for the crust, but used pisco (grape brandy) instead of bourbon. Put a combo of toasted, salted walnuts and almonds on 1/3 of the pan, tart dried cherries on the next 1/3, and pretzel remnants on the remaining third. (chocolate throughout, of course. there are some things one doesn’t play with.) In the oven now!

  103. Linda

    These are so delicious! I have made them several times now because people cannot get enough of them. Easy and indescribly scrumptious. This rates a 10+!

  104. Jane

    Loved this. It’s going in the recipe folder. :-) Super easy to make, with store-cupboard ingredients, and completely delicious. Sweet, but not tooth-achingly so. I used oats – and I didn’t even have the nice big old fashioned ones. Toasted them in a dry frying pan and let them cool down before adding them to the topping mix. Lovely flavour and texture. I did wonder if I was doing something wrong when I whisked the butter and sugars when making the filling (it looked grainy/greasy, not smooth) but it all came together beautifully once the eggs were in. Also, I thought I’d never cover the base and part way up the sides of my 8 inch square pan with the base dough – but just keep going – it is just the right amount. Thanks Deb!!!

  105. Betsy

    Hello! Was just wondering if there is any way I can prepare the dough or crust the night before? I have an early lunch and I want to take them straight of the oven but wont have time to do everything from scratch! Thank you :)

  106. Carissa R.

    Doubled the recipe, using half toasted oats and half walnuts (necessity became the mother of “ingenuity,” thanks to Deb’s suggestion that oats can replace nuts and I only had 3/4 c. of walnuts) and baked in my can’t-recommend-it-highly-enough springform 9×13 pan. I followed the Cuisinart method, pulsing until large chunks formed — and won’t do it that way again. My standard method for short crusts is a wet sand consistency that is soft, very loose and easily cooperates & presses into the pan. The large chunks were REALLY sticky and not in the least cooperative, despite my many attempts at using the butter wrapper to press it in, greasing the butter wrapper, greasing my knuckles, greasing my fingertips…GAH! It was a PITA.
    Despite my first-world crust problem, I loved the recipe and modified it not one whit. Thanks for another fabulous ‘ssert recipe, Deb. It’s fabulous.