In a few hours, the gates will open on the 136th Running of the Roses, The Kentucky Derby. 20 horses will run their little tails off 1.25 miles for a 2 million dollar purse. Not bad, not bad. Unfortunately, that’s all I know after a quick Google search as haven’t touched my stack of Sports Illustrateds since the Winter Olympics. I’m way behind and terribly uninformed on what’s happening in the sports world. Sigh. I’ll catch up one of these days. We’re already headfirst into baseball and hockey playoffs and I’ve got 2 months to get it together before the Tour de France starts.
So anyway, 135 years and I have yet to witness this event on anything but a television broadcast. Many of my midwestern friends have a history with the Derby, usually a rather unsavory one that involves a lot of drinking in the infield and very little to with the race itself. In fact, they have a lot of these similar memories … Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, any Bears game … but I digress.
The Kentucky Derby is exactly the kind of event I love, full of it’s own traditions, pomp and circumstances, unknown come-from-behind gut wrenching finishes and tiny underweight men and women leading 1000lb animals to victory. And at The Derby you wear hats, drink mint juleps and eat Derby Pie. Right? Having never been, this is how I chose to envision it.
Bringing it back to food is what I do and a few years ago, I discovered Derby Pie. After some research, I learned that “Derby Pie” was created by a Kentucky family 50 years ago (still is made by them) with a closely held secret recipe and is very much associated with the race. I’m going to simplify this here but it’s essentially a nut pie, typically walnuts or pecans, with chocolate and a healthy shot of Kentucky bourbon. Hmmm, sounded promising.
I’ve never been a great fan of pecan pie – usually too sweet, too gloppy – though, I do make a great one that is neither of those things. The key is a little salt and a healthy shot of whiskey. I swear, a little booze makes everything great. For Derby Day, I simply took my recipe and tweaked it a bit based on what I read. I added some dark chocolate (62% cacao) for a slightly bitter note and substituted a healthy glug of bourbon for the whiskey. Perfection. Let me tell you that bourbon really does it. Gives the mixture an ever so slight boozy accent that cuts through the sweetness beautifully.
Traditionally, this is made into a pie but I prefer smaller tarts – better presentation, easier to serve and a slightly greater pastry to filling ratio. If you’ve got some time, today or in the future, make these. They come together REALLY easily. Mix and bake. Can’t beat that. And here’s a tip – put the pecans/chocolate into the tart shells first then top with the goo. You’ll get a better distribution of nuts/chocolate to filling in each shell and it’s a helluva lot easier.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: FIVE ROSES. Anything with booze, especially Kentucky Bourbon, is an instant favorite. Add some toasty pecans, a butter crust and some sweet brown sugar goo and really, what else do you need? I could throw in some horse jokes or handicap the odds or something, but I’m not going to. That would just be dopey. The tarts are good. Really good. Just take my word for it.
KENTUCKY DERBY TARTS
Makes 12 3” tarts
1 recipe single crust tart pastry
2/3 cup light corn syrup
½ cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup Kentucky bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 whole eggs
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup chopped semisweet chocolate (chopped) or chocolate chips
- Adjust oven rack to lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
- For the pastry crust: Prepare the dough according the recipe. Refrigerate until needed.
- Remove dough from the refrigerator – if stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool and malleable, about 5-10 minutes.
- Roll a golf ball piece of dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle 1” larger than your tart pan.
- Transfer to pan and gently ease the dough into the sides of the pan, careful not to stretch.
- Trim or pinch the dough around the pan edges.
- Freeze tart shells for at least ½ hours.
- For the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together corn syrup, brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla, eggs, egg whites and salt. (This is the “goo.”)
- Divide the pecans and chocolate between the frozen tart shells.
- Carefully pour the “goo” oven the pecans/chocolate being careful not to overfill.
- Bake until the center feels set yet soft when gently pressed, sort of like gelatin, about 18-20 minutes. ]
- Let cool on a wire rack then remove from tart pans. If the filling has oozed over and stuck to the pan, carefully run a knife around the edge too loosen. This works best if the tarts are still slightly warm.
- Serve tarts at room temperature or warm – bake and cool to set the filling then reheat for 5-10 minutes in a 250°F oven.