Last updated on August 31st, 2023
Place your bets on this deliciously sweet Kentucky Derby pie filled with semi-sweet chocolate chips, walnuts and a splash of bourbon.
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You don’t have to hail from the state of Kentucky to know about the infamous annual horse race known as the Kentucky Derby. Dubbed “greatest two minutes in sports,” a nod to the approximate length of time it takes for the horses to complete their gallop around the track, the Kentucky Derby is known for so much more than just horses. Ostentation ladies’ hats and sundresses, seersucker mens’ suits, mint julep cocktails, and Kentucky Derby pie are just a few well-known race day traditions. Kentucky Derby pie is seductively sweet. It’s very similar to chocolate pecan pie, but with walnuts and a splash of bourbon.
The origins of the Kentucky Derby pie
This chocolate walnut confection debuted at the Melrose Inn in the 1950’s, but didn’t become an official race day tradition until the 1990’s. The pie originated at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, a town about 11 miles northeast of Louisville, the town where the Kentucky Derby is hosted at Churchill Downs racetrack every year.
George Kern and his parents, Walter and Leaundra, managed the Melrose Inn restaurant in the mid-1950’s. The Kerns are credited with creating the original recipe. The pie wasn’t even created as a nod to the horse race. Each family member threw their pick into a hat and a name was drawn. Eventually the Kern family left the hotel and established a bakery devoted to manufacturing the pies. The actual recipe is a closely guarded family secret and the name “Derby-Pie®” was trademarked in 1969.
Ingredients and tools you will need
As mentioned above, the original derby pie recipe is a closely guarded secret. But I imagine this to be a reasonable, if not equally delicious, facsimile. The most significant difference between my pie and the Kerns’ is the splash of bourbon. But y’all know how I love my bourbon, so why not? To make this recipe, you’ll need:
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup of butter, melted and cooled
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons of bourbon
- 1 cup of light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
- 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 unbaked pie crust for a nine-inch pie plate – check out my tutorial for making a homemade pie crust if you want to make your own.
How to make Kentucky Derby pie
First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, melted butter, corn syrup, bourbon (if using), brown sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk together the ingredients until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the walnuts and chocolate chips. Mix the pie filling on low speed until the walnuts and chocolate are evenly incorporated throughout the batter. Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Bake the pie for 50-60 minutes until the center of the pie is set.
The pie didn’t bubble over for me during baking; however, I did place a foil lined baking sheet under the pie, just in case, to catch any drips. Also, keep an eye on your pie crust. At around 40 minutes of bake time, I noticed the crust was nice and golden brown, but the filling still needed a bit more cook time. I loosely covered the top of the pie with foil to prevent any additional browning.
Some prefer to eat the pie warm out of the oven. The filling can be a bit runny while it’s warm, so I prefer to let the pie cool completely for several hours on a wire rack before serving.
Storage and freezing
Storage. Since Kentucky Derby pie contains dairy products, the pie does need to be stored in the refrigerator once it has cooled. Cover the top of the pie with plastic wrap or store it in a pie saver to prevent the pie from drying out. Consume within five days.
Freezing. Wrap the entire baked pie or individual slices in plastic wrap then follow with a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to three months. Allow the pie to thaw completely in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.
Frequently asked questions
Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon served at the Kentucky Derby, so naturally that’s what I used. However, feel free to use any brand you prefer.
Can I use something other than bourbon?
Brandy, rum, scotch or cognac can all be used as a substitute for in Kentucky Derby pie.
Can I use pecans instead of walnuts?
Yup. You can substitute some or all of the walnuts for pecans and achieve similar results.
Should I use a deep dish or regular pie crust?
This recipe was made using a regular pie crust.
Can I use a graham cracker pie crust instead?
Yes, you can. You will need to check the pie more regularly to ensure the graham cracker crust doesn’t burn.
Can I leave the bourbon out?
The bourbon can be omitted. I suggest replacing the bourbon with non-alcoholic almond extract.
Kentucky Derby Pie
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup butter melted and cooled
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons bourbon
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 unbaked pie shell for a 9-inch pie plate
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, melted butter, corn syrup, bourbon, brown sugar and vanilla. Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the walnuts and chocolate chips. Mix together until the chocolate and nuts are evenly incorporated throughout the filling.
- Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes until the center of the pie is set. If the pie begins to brown too quickly, loosely cover it with aluminum foil.
- Allow the pie to cool completely for several hours on a wire rack before serving.