How To Make Kentucky Bourbon and Walnut Pie

How To Make Kentucky Bourbon and Walnut Pie

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Meghan Splawn
Apr 27, 2017
(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

This bourbon-spiked, chocolate and walnut pie (aka we-can't-call-it-Derby-pie pie) may well be the most controversial pie in the history of Kentucky. And controversy — and a lawsuit or two— has made this pie a part of Kentucky history. So eating a piece of this pie, you might say, is like eating a piece of history.

But we'd argue that this pie isn't just famous because of some back and forth over a name. This pie is famous because it's a downright delicious dessert that's easy to whip up and pretty as you please to look at — especially with a dollop of bourbon whipped cream on top. Try it and let us know if you agree.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

A Brief History of Kentucky's Most Controversial Pie

Think of this Kentucky bourbon and walnut pie as a chocolatey riff on a pecan pie. Its origins date back to the late 19th century (or likely even earlier); the first printed record of pecan pie is in a church charity cookbook in St. Louis, compliments of a Texan cook. It's safe to say that Southerners everywhere have been adapting and adding this and that — including chocolate and bourbon — to put their own signature twist on the classic ever since.

Importantly for this story is the particular variation created by the Kern family in 1950. Their pie, not as yet officially named, was the signature item for their Prospect, Kentucky restaurant, the Melrose Inn. The restaurant closed in 1960, but the pie business continued and was so successful that the family decided to trademark the name. Thus, Derby-Pie® was officially born.

Besides the fact that the recipe is top secret, the Kerns have been rather rabid about the use of the name. Use it and you're likely to get slapped with a lawsuit — which is what happened to Bon Appetit when the food magazine printed their "Derby pie" recipe in 1986. The courts determined Derby pie wasn't, as claimed, a generic term for this kind of pie and the Kerns maintained their trademark.

Read more on the controversial trademark on Derby-Pie here:
What's Inside a 'Derby Pie'? Maybe a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen at NPR

So, Is This a "Derby-Pie®"?

Er, no. We're going to side-step that whole lawsuit-waiting-to-happen situation and say that this Kentucky bourbon and walnut pie recipe is inspired by the true Derby-Pie®, with some notable tweaks — we think for the better.

Southerners do like their sweets to be, well, sweet and this sticky and ultra-sweet pie is no exception. That's exactly why we've chosen to swap out the standard semisweet chips for a darker chocolate, to help offset the custard's tooth-achingly sweet flavor. It's still plenty decadent, and one bite will prove it.

Kern's Derby-Pie® also skips the bourbon — a mistake, in our opinion! In fact, we've included a double dose of the good stuff: a pour for the pie and a pour for the whipped cream on top.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

How to Make a Kentucky Bourbon Pie

Making Kentucky bourbon pie is much like baking a pecan pie: Start with an unbaked pie shell of your choice (here's our favorite recipe for flaky pie crust); whisk together some brown sugar, bourbon, butter, and eggs until smooth; and pour over some chopped chocolate and walnuts in the pie shell. Bake, chill, slice, and enjoy with a little bourbon whipped cream.

Here are a few pointer for pie perfection.

  • Whisk the filling ingredients until smooth, then add the eggs. You could certainly whisk all of the filling ingredients (except for nuts and chocolate) together at once, but I like to add the eggs after the bulk of the ingredients are already combined to avoid whisking the eggs too vigorously, resulting in a foamy filling.
  • Bake on a baking sheet for easier transport. I set the pie plate on a baking sheet so that it is easier to transport in and out of the oven. This reduces the risk of ruining the crimped edges of the pie.
  • Avoid an underbaked pie. Kentucky bourbon pie is done when the center of the pie reaches 200°F and a skewer inserted in the center comes out mostly clean — expect some melty chocolate but not syrupy filling. Like a cake, the center of the pie should spring back slightly when tapped.
  • Cool completely before slicing. Not only will you avoid a runny pie, but you'll also get neater, prettier slices.

How To Make Kentucky Bourbon and Walnut Pie

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie; 8 to 12 servings

What You Need

Ingredients
For the pie:
1 unbaked pie crust, thawed if frozen
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon, such as Buffalo Trace
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (about 6 ounces)
1 (3 1/2-ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (such as Ghiradelli 72% Cacao Intense Dark)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Kentucky bourbon, such as Buffalo Trace

Equipment
Rolling pin
9-inch pie plate
Large bowl
Whisk
Chef's knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Stand mixer with whisk attachment or electric hand mixer
Baking sheet
Cooling rack

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F.
  2. Line the pie plate: Roll the pie dough out if needed. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the dough and crimp the edges. Refrigerate while you make the filling.
  3. Make the filling: Place the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, bourbon, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk until completely incorporated.
  4. Fill the crust: Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the walnuts and chocolate evenly in the crust. Pour in the filling.
  5. Bake the pie: Place the pie on a baking sheet. Bake until the center of the pie reaches 200°F and the top springs back slightly when tapped, about 50 minutes.
  6. Cool the pie: Place the pie on a wire rack and cool completely, about 4 hours.
  7. Make the whipped cream: When ready to serve, place all the whipped cream ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl). Beat on medium-high speed to stiff peaks.
  8. Serve the pie: Slice the pie wedges and serve with a dollop of the bourbon whipped cream.

Recipe Notes

  • Make ahead and storage: The pie needs to be completely cool before serving, so it can be made 1 day ahead. Leftovers can be covered with plastic wrap or foil and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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