My sister and brother-in-law are famous (or perhaps infamous?) for their Kentucky Derby parties. What started out as a college excuse to throw a good bash has evolved into a decade-long tradition of epic proportions.
They currently live in San Francisco, and "Derby" is still an excuse for old friends to fly in and reminisce about the good old days. The expectations are always high, but they happily rise to the occasion. The julep cups are polished, the Virginia country ham delivered, and the fine linens pressed.
On the big day, an authentic bluegrass band gets the good mood going. Men arrive in their brightest bow ties, women in their best hats. Even my six-year-old nephew dons the most adorable seersucker suit you've ever seen. It's quite a sight to see, especially the confused looks on the California born-and-bred neighbors' faces. By the end of the night, the bourbon is flowing freely and you can guarantee a late-night dance party (and a broken glass or two). It makes me proud to be southern!
Unfortunately they are in the process of moving right now, so there won't be a Derby party this year. Instead, I'll have to throw my own little celebration here in Atlanta, complete with Hot Browns and Derby Pie Bars. These ooey gooey versions are like mini chocolate chip pecan pies, but instead made with walnuts and spiked with a good shot of bourbon. What's not to like?
So go make yourself a mint julep and pick a good horse. Who knows? You could even hit the Derby jackpot!
Derby Pie Bars
yields 24 2-inch squares
For the shortbread crust
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
For the filling
12 tablespoons (1 + 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey (or more to taste)
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F.
To make the crust, combine the powdered sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add cubes of butter and pulse until it resembles coarse cornmeal. (You can also use your fingers or a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter. Whatever is easiest for you.) Firmly pat the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Bake the crust for about 20 to 23 minutes until just lightly golden.
To make the filling, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, flour, salt, and bourbon and continue to mix until well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Pour batter over partially baked crust. Bake until filling is set and the top is light golden-brown, approximately 25 minutes. Allow bars to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into 2-inch squares (or desired size). Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Bars will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.
Related: Mint Juleps for Kentucky Derby Day
(Images: Nealey Dozier)