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.
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?
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!
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.
* 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
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
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.