Chocolate-Walnut (Maple-Bourbon!) "Derby" Bars
The controversial Kentucky Derby Pie®, with its trademarked name, has been closely associated with the prestigious horse race since the 1950s. It’s also a great treat to bring to any Kentucky Derby party. However, the recipe for an actual KDP is closely guarded by its originators (and copious law suits) so you don’t see the real thing up North very often.
Growing up in Yankee country, the version of the "Kentucky Derby Pie" that my grandparents served at their restaurant was nothing like the traditional southern version at all. It was basically a chocolate chip cookie baked into a pie crust. It was delicious, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, but it wasn’t actually Kentucky Derby Pie. I had no idea what the real thing was, or the controversy surrounding it, until I was a culinary school student many years later.
Honestly, there are enough recipes out there that do approximate the original gooey chocolate-walnut-filled pie, and as a New Englander, I have to admit that it really isn’t my thing anyway. But add some maple syrup and bourbon, and you’ve got my attention. I found a few recipes out there that strayed from the traditional formula, and those inspired me to create my own non-pie version with ingredients I prefer (like local Bully Boy whiskey and Vermont maple syrup). Rather than rolling out pie dough, these bars feature an easy press-and-bake crust, and a chocolatey, walnut-studded, bourbon-laced topping. Even if you’re not into the Kentucky Derby, these will be a hit with friends and neighbors at any party.
The walnuts in this recipe taste best when they're toasted. Preheat your oven and toast the nuts (watch them carefully!) before baking the crust so that they have time to cool before you mix them into the filling mixture.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, crisscrossed to form a sling, and coat with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Combine 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in mixing bowl. Sprinkle 8 tablespoons softened butter over the mixture and work into dry ingredients until crumbly dough forms and clumps together when pressed. Press evenly into lined baking pan, and bake until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Whisk together 6 tablespoons melted butter, remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar, maple syrup, eggs, bourbon, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup flour until just combined, then stir in chocolate and walnuts. Spread evenly over warm crust, and bake until filling is bubbling around edges and doesn’t giggle in the middle, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan using foil sling, and let cool to room temperature before cutting into 2-inch squares.