Sweet Idea: Thoroughbred Pie for the Kentucky Derby

What better way to top off the Kentucky Derby than with a slice of chocolate-walnut-bourbon pie? None, as long as you rein in the runaway sweetness.

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In the final stretch of any properly hosted Kentucky Derby party--trailing behind the mint juleps, burgoo, and hot browns--comes a slice of gooey, rich, chocolate-nut pie. Although you can find countless recipes for it, the Kern family created the standard-bearer. They began baking it at their inn in Prospect, Kentucky, in 1954 and subsequently trademarked it as "Derby-Pie."

Generically called thoroughbred pie, it's soft and very sweet, and studded with walnuts and chocolate chips; the top of the pie has a sugary, slightly crackly crunch.

The majority of Thoroughbred Pie recipes that we prepared were far too sweet. We reduced the amount of sugar to almost half of what was called for in some recipes. Brown sugar contributed a hint of spice and depth, while more neutral white sugar ensured that the nuts and chocolate weren't eclipsed. To bring more balance to the pie, we replaced semisweet chocolate chips with chopped bittersweet chocolate. To give the top of our pie its trademark crunch, we went with cornstarch instead of the flour that we'd been using as a thickener. Removing some egg white from the recipe also helped. We settled on blind baking our pie crust to ensure that it didn't come out of the oven underbaked. Sprinkling the chocolate over the still-warm crust provided a hit of intense chocolate in every bite.

Serves 8

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 tablespoons bourbon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped

1. Cover pie shell with plastic wrap and refrigerate 40 minutes, then freeze 20 minutes. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line chilled pie shell with two 12-inch squares parchment paper, letting parchment hang over edges of dough. Top with pie weights and bake until surface of dough no longer looks wet, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Remove pie from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Carefully remove parchment and weights and sprinkle chocolate over bottom of hot crust. Let sit 5 minutes, then spread chocolate into even layer; set aside.

3. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until butter is nutty brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Off heat, slowly stir in bourbon (mixture will bubble strongly) and let cool 5 minutes.

4. Whisk granulated sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt in large bowl until combined. Add eggs, yolk, and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Slowly whisk in warm butter mixture until incorporated. Stir in walnuts and pour filling into chocolate-lined crust. Bake until filling is puffed and center jiggles slightly when pie is gently shaken, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack 4 hours. Serve with Bourbon Whipped Cream. (Pie can be refrigerated, covered, for 2 days.)

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip cream, bourbon, brown sugar, and vanilla on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. (Whipped cream can be refrigerated 4 hours.)

This recipe was originally published in Cook's Country magazine. Subscribe today and get a free gift.