Living in Cincinnati is funny. I live and work in Ohio but buy my groceries and get gas in Kentucky. Even the Cincinnati airport is located in Kentucky. I often forget I’m changing states when I cross the river, but once you hit Kentucky you can feel that you’re in the South. One of the best parts of living in Cincinnati is being close enough to the South to to celebrate southern traditions and events such as The Kentucky Derby.
There are many traditions associated with the Kentucky Derby from big hats and fancy dresses to the playing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ but my favorite tradition involves pie.
Derby Pie®, a walnut and pecan pie with the addition of chocolate and bourbon, was originally made in the 1950s at a restaurant just outside Louisville called The Melrose Inn. The owners, Walter and Leondra Kern, perfected the recipe and eventually needed to choose a name. To do so, they had all of their family members write suggestions down and Derby Pie ® was the winner out of the hat. The family eventually started a pie business called Kern’s Kitchen and it is now the official baker of Derby Pie ® and sells nearly 150,000 pies a year.
The name Derby Pie ® has been trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen and they have filed many lawsuits to protect the name. In Kentucky (and in cookbooks and magazines), you’ll see variations of the pie going by names such as Chocolate Nut Pie, May Day Pie, Horse Race Pie, NOT Derby Pie, or Pegasus Pie.
I love the tradition of Derby Pie ® more than I like the actual pie. The sweet filling, boozy bourbon, buttery nuts, and rich chocolate make for a dessert that is just too rich for me and I can only manage a few bites. This year, I decided to make something that would take the flavors of the Derby but make them a little more balanced… after all, I like to eat lots of dessert and not just a few bites.
Looking through some books (specifically Cookie Love by Mindy Segal), I was inspired by thumbprint cookies and knew the shortbread would be the perfect balance to the sweet bourbon-chocolate filling. The shortbread is a traditional recipe but I substituted some of the flour with ground pecans to give it a more nutty flavor before filling the thumbprints with a chocolate, bourbon, and pecan mixture. These cookies are quick to make and easier to serve at a party than slices of pie. If you’re looking for a new Derby tradition, give Kentucky Derby Cookies a try.
An additional note: At the bottom of this post, right before the comments, you may notice a new orange ‘Yum’ button. This button comes from a new website called Yummly where I’ve recently joined their team of publishers (you can find my publisher page here). Yummly allows you to save recipes from all over the web in one convenient ‘recipe box’ hosted on their site. You can search your recipe box, browse the site for new recipes, and even create a grocery list. I’ve been using Yummly for the past few weeks and I’ve found it really helpful. Consider joining Yummly so the next time you see a recipe you like on this site (or any site) you can hit the Yum button and save it to your recipe box.
Kentucky Derby Cookies
Let’s talk through the recipe before we start baking. The recipe is relatively easy but there are a few things to go over to make it foolproof.
Here’s something to consider before you start baking – you will have extra filling left over. You can either double the shortbread recipe and bake around 40 cookies or you can save the extra filling in a jar and use it for a sauce over vanilla ice cream. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator but may need to be warmed slightly until it is pourable.
When you’re ready to start baking, the first thing you’ll want to do is toast the pecans that will be ground up and mixed into the shortbread dough. (You also need toasted pecans for the filling so you can toast those at this time too as long as you are sure to only grind half of them.)
To toast the nuts, simply spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and put them in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. You’ll want to keep an eye on them because nuts can burn quickly. They are done when they look lightly toasted and are fragrant.
Let them cool for a few minutes, then use a food processor to grind them to nearly a powder. I pulse them until they are finely ground and no big pieces remain. Try not to grind them too far or the oils will release and the meal will become mushy. If you want to ensure the pecans are smooth with no pieces remaining, run the pecan meal through a fine mesh strainer or flour sifter.
Now, it’s time to make the shortbread dough. This part is easy but one trick that makes a big difference is to scrape down your mixer bowl several times throughout the process. Usually, I scrape down the bottom and the sides between each step or before I add a new ingredient.
Using a stand mixer (or a handheld electric mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then, mix in the vanilla extract, bourbon, and salt until combined. Dump in all of the flour and ground pecans at once and mix on low speed just until the dough comes together and no dry patches remain. Dump the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, press it into a square, wrap it up, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or until it is firm.
While the dough is chilling, you can make the filling. Start by melting the butter and then stirring in light corn syrup, brown sugar, salt, and chocolate chips.
Here’s a trick: when you’re measuring a sticky ingredient such as corn syrup, molasses or honey, spray the inside of your measuring cup with cooking spray. The sticky syrup will slide right out and clean up is a breeze.
Once everything is melted, add the heavy cream and let the mixture simmer and thicken for a few minutes. When it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, stir in the pecans, bourbon, and vanilla extract. You don’t want to stir in the bourbon and vanilla extract until the end or some of it will cook off and you’ll lose flavor.
Once the filling is cool enough to taste, take a spoonful and decide if you want to increase the amount of bourbon. Whenever I cook with booze, I start small and add more gradually, making sure to taste in between every addition. I don’t want my cookies tasting like shots of liquor!
When the dough has finished chilling, roll 1 tablespoon portions of dough into balls. Place each ball on a baking sheet and use your thumb to press down and form an indentation in the center of the dough. You can also use your fingers to help make the well by pressing the sides of the cookies to form a sort of wall for the filling.
When the cookies are baking, the centers tends to puff up so use a wooden spoon to press the centers down when you rotate the pans half way through baking. Once you remove the cookies from the oven, repeat the process and punch down the centers again with the end of a wooden spoon.
This is how the dough should look before it goes in the oven
Let the cookies cool until you are able to handle them. Fill the center of each cookie with the chocolate filling, about 1 tablespoon in each cookie. Don’t worry if some drips over the sides. Let the cookies sit for a few minutes so the filling can set up. These will last for 2-3 days if kept in an airtight container.
Jordan Hamons | [The Hungry Traveler|http://www.thehungrytravelerblog.com" target="_blank]
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 ounces / 114 grams) granulated sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces / 227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups + 1 tablespoon (8 ounces / 227 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 ounces) pecan pieces, toasted and finely ground in food processor (see note)
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Filling
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces / 170 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup (5.3 ounces / 150 grams) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup (2 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-4 tablespoons bourbon (adjust according to taste)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
For the shortbread dough:
Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add vanilla extract, bourbon, and salt and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Reduce speed to low and add the flour and ground pecans all at once. Mix on low until just combined, about 20-30 seconds. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix on low for 5-10 more seconds until no dry spots remain and the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it down into a square. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. While the dough is resting, make the filling.
To make the filling:
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add corn syrup, brown sugar, salt, and chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is homogenous.
Whisk in the heavy cream and bring the mixture to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer until it is reduced and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, bourbon, and pecan pieces. Let cool while the cookies are baking.
To bake and fill the cookies:
Divide the dough into 1 tablespoon portions and roll each into a ball. Evenly space the balls on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb, press down to make an indentation in the center of each cookie.
Place the two baking sheets in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheets and using the end of a wooden spoon, press down the centers to keep the indentation. Rotate the sheets and return them to the oven to continue baking until golden brown and just set, about 5 minutes.
Remove the cookies from the oven and use the end of the spatula to press down the centers one last time. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then move to a cooling rack to let cool completely. Repeat the process with the remaining cookie dough.
Once the cookies are cool enough to handle, fill the center of each cookie with about 1 tablespoon of filling. Let set for 30 minutes or until the filling has firmed up slightly. Cookies will stay fresh for 2-3 days in an airtight container.
You will have left over filling. You can either double the shortbread dough recipe and make 40 cookies OR you can save the leftover filling in the refrigerator for a few days and use it as a sauce for vanilla ice cream.
To toast pecans, spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and toast them in a 350-degree oven until slightly browned and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.
For the shortbread dough, toast the pecans and then pulse them in a food processor until finely ground with no big pieces remaining. Be careful not to over-process them or the oils will release and you will be left with mush. Once the nuts are ground to a fine meal with no big pieces, they are ready. You can run them through a fine mesh strainer ensure smoothness.
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hungry gopher says
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