Was Derby pie named for the hat or the horse race?
The horse race. But a hat does figure in the original name of this rich, chocolate & nut pie. Created in 1950 at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, by Walter and Leaudra Kern with some input from their son George, the pie–first made with chocolate and walnuts–sparked debate in the family, each person wanting to call it something else. To resolve the conflict, everyone tossed their favorite name into a hat: The slip that got plucked was inscribed, “Derby Pie.”
I’m not sure if that stopped the family feuding, but the pie was a huge hit, anchoring the Kern family baking business and lasting long after they sold the Inn. Protecting their rights to the pie, the Kern’s copyrighted the name “Derby Pie” in 1969, and still sue usurpers. Side-stepping litigation, home-baked chocolate-nut pie creations have safely circulated under different names in the intervening decades.
We baked ’em all, tweaking and experimenting as we went: some with corn starch and bourbon in the mix, others with flour and vanilla. Some with walnuts; others pecans. All enriched with chocolate. While the version made with cornstarch had a lovely, meringue-like cookie crust on top (shown in photo), my favorite tested version (below) uses flour instead of cornstarch, plus high-quality chocolate, toasted pecans and vanilla. If you want that Kentucky bourbon spike? Whisk a little of the good stuff into the whipped-cream garnish.
- Piecrust Ingredients
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar
- pinch salt
- 1/4 cup very cold vegetable shortening or lard
- 1/4 cup very cold unsalted butter
- 2 to 3 Tbsp half-and-half or milk
- Chocolate-pecan Pie Filling Ingredients
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 to 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup Guittard semi-sweet chocolate couverture chocolate wafers (in the blue box)
- Garnish Ingredients
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 Tbsp bourbon
- 1 Tbsp powdered sugar (optional)
- Make crust: Sift flour, sugar and salt together. Using two knives, or your fingertips, cut in fat until the mixture is like wet sand with a few larger pea-sized bits in it. Sprinkle in only as much milk or cream as you need to get the pastry to hold together when lightly pressed. Gather dough into a ball; place on plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Wrap. Refrigerate at least 1/2 hour.
- Set oven to 325. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until fragrant and toasted. Remove from oven and cool. Increase oven temperature to 350.
- Make filling: Melt butter in a pan or in microwave. Set on counter to slightly cool.
- In bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, whisk eggs. Stir flour, sugar and salt together; In two stages, whisk flour/sugar mixture into the eggs. Add vanilla. Add melted butter.
- Chop chocolate. Chop toasted nuts. Stir both into the filling.
- Assemble pie: Roll out pie crust and ease into 9-inch pan; crimp pastry to make a decorative edge.
- Fill piecrust with nut/chocolate filling. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes on center rack in oven.
- Cool pie on a rack for at least one full hour before slicing. (NOTE: the longer you can let the pie rest, the better–it takes a while to set up. Also, the crust on top will be very delicate, breaks easily.)
- For garnish: whip cream plain, or with a little powdered sugar or bourbon.