Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

There are five things that never fail to make this Kentucky born and bred foodie swoon. “Foodie” is my politically correct characterization of myself. Roughly translated, it means “big ol’ girl who loves to eat (and drink).” Those five things are, in no particular order:

  • Chocolate
  • Bourbon
  • Pecans
  • Gravy
  • Cornmeal –crusted anything

The recipe I am going to share today contains three of these ingredients and is truly slap your Mamaw—unless you had a Mamaw like mine who would slap back—delicious! The recipe calls for a pre-made frozen pie crust, but feel free to make your own homemade crust if you feel like raising the bar a notch or two. As a life-long underachiever, I am content to use the pre-made crust. Either way, this pie is divine.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

1 deep dish pie shell
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
¼ c. bourbon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. light corn syrup
½ c. butter
¼ tsp. salt
Mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 c. pecan halves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the sugars, corn syrup and butter. Cool over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and the sugars dissolve. Cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, bourbon, vanilla and salt. Mix well. Slowly pour the sugar mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Stir in pecans.

Pour chocolate chips onto the pie crust, covering the entire bottom with a single layer of chips. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until set and golden.

May be served warm or chilled.


Now You're Cooking with Bourbon...

Image via Southern Living.
A few Sundays ago, my beau and I had just sat down to a patio brunch at one of our very favorite Downtown Lexington spots when we happened to notice the folks at the next table.  They were clearly a family, a mother, father, and a twenty-something son.  Their rapid accents and references to Westchester County easily identified them as upstate New Yorkers.   As we finished deciding on our order, we happened to hear the lady at that table wondering about dessert selections, so my beau handed her his menu.  A moment later, she asked us whether the restaurant carried "something called Derby Pie", which she'd been told to try on her trip to Kentucky.

Now, it was a sunny, lazy Sunday morning -- kind of a picture-postcard day -- and we decided it would be a lovely time to play "native Kentuckian" for these folks. (Later, my beau would jokingly say of the encounter, "This is so going in HerKentucky, isn't it?")  So, I gave our new friend a mini lesson on Derby Pie -- how nearly every Kentucky restaurant sells a variant of Derby Pie, but are bound by trademark restrictions to call it something else, how she definitely wanted to try it before she went home, etc.  As she asked more questions about the pastry and its preperation, I went into the basic instructions of how to make a Kentucky pie-- chocolate, walnuts, and a heavy splash of Maker's Mark.

"Does it have to be Maker's Mark, or can you use any bourbon?" the lady then asked. 

Image via Maker's Mark.
Now, as I've said before, Maker's is the bourbon of choice at our house.  We just love its caramel notes and its smooth drinkability.  We know that any time I cook with chocolate, I add a splash of Maker's for balance.  We know that any time we want to undwind with a nice cocktail, it's Maker's and Coke or a Maker's Manhattan.  But, the truth is, it has been ages since we thought about  or explained the reason.  Needless to say, we jumped into Maker's Mark Ambassador mode and gave our Knickerbocker friends a little lesson in bourbon.

I first explained to our fellow diner that I always use Maker's Mark in baking because the three distinct notes -- smokiness, caramel, and a hint of vanilla -- provide a complex counterbalance to chocolate.  This flavor profile compliments the chocolate flavor deliciously.  My beau then took over from there,  noting that Maker's is distilled in a very unique manner, using red winter wheat instead of rye, which creates a smooth and caramel-textured bourbon. 

By this time, the youngest member of the dining party had returned from paying the check.  His mother asked us to repeat a few details for his benefit, to which he replied "Do you work for Maker's Mark?'

"No," my beau and I said, almost in unison.  "we just really like bourbon."

Bourbon: of Love Notes and Legal Opinions

Earlier this week, Sarah blogged about Derby Pie, the Louisville-based pastry that is so unique and wonderful that it warrants trademark protection.  While the nut-and-chocolate pie springs up under many names across the Commonwealth, there is only one pastry that can be called Derby Pie.

Image via ABC News.
Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals similarly found that there is only one brand of booze that can feature a seal of dripping red wax -- Loretto's own Maker's Mark.  The truth is, you don't need the Court of Appeals to tell you that the Maker's trademark is "extremely strong"; the distinctive wax-sealed bottle is unmistakable even to teetotalers.  Now, here at HerKentucky, we've spent more than our fair share of time reading legal opinions.  And, most of us have been known to mix up a bourbon cocktail or two.  Needless to say, this story stoked the geek fires around here. 

Even if legal documents aren't your thing, Judge Martin's opinion is kind of awesome. Before going into the intellectual property issues at the heart of the case, he takes a lot of time to just talk about whiskey. It reads like a love letter to bourbon.  In describing the process that yields Kentucky's signature spirit, he waxes poetic.  In establishing bourbon's role as the greatest of all spirits, he evokes imagery from Harry Truman to James Bond.  Even the footnotes are lyrical, pointing out that  "the spelling of the word “whiskey” has engendered impassioned debate." While Judge Martin and his law clerks clearly had a blast researching this issue, they also got me thinking about the uniquely Kentucky character of bourbon.
Image via KY ABC.
As every Kentuckian knows, bourbon is created from a blend of sour (corn) mash which is aged in charred-oak barrels.  The sweet caramel and vanilla notes are produced by natural sugars occuring in the wood. The process began in the Central Kentucky region known as "Old Bourbon." And, while bourbon can technically be produced outside the boundaries of the Commonwealth, most of us consider Kentucky production a key.  It's been estimated that 97% of all bourbon is produced in Central Kentucky.   (And, really, who would want to know what that other 3% is, let alone drink it?)

Most Kentuckians have a favorite bourbon, whether we use it for drinking or cooking.  I'm a Maker's girl myself; I love the smooth, smoky caramel taste in a cocktail or to provide a complex note in chocolate desserts.     But, whatever flavor profile you prefer in your bourbon,  it's a taste that's wonderfully unique to Kentucky.

What's your favorite bourbon?

Kentucky and Trademark



I hope everyone had a fabulous Derby. I hope you sat back and enjoyed a Mint Julep. I hope your horse won. I hope you served your friends a delicious piece of Derby P---

Don't say it!

If over the weekend you cooked up a chocolate pecan bourbon concoction and called it Derby Pie®, then you my friend committed trademark infringement. Unless you purchased your pie at Kern's Kitchen, it was NOT Derby Pie ®.


Derby Pie® was created by George Kern and the recipe is passionately protected by the Kern family. The secret recipe is only known to the family and single Kern's Kitchen employee who makes the pie everyday. If you make a similar pie, you better alter the recipe and call it something else. 


Think back. How many times have you seen "chocolate pecan pie" on a menu and wondered why they just don't call it Derby Pie ®


In their defense, it is delicious pie. One of the best parts of attending Transylvania University is they serve Kern's Kitchen in the cafeteria. As a Western Kentuckian, I was not familiar with the finer points of pie but I have to say I now look for that little Kern's Kitchen stamp on the crust. If I see it, I know I have a treat in store. 


Now you know, Colonel Sanders isn't the only Kentuckian with a secret recipe...or a trademark to back it up!


~ Sarah Stewart Holland





Derby Party

I adore Derby.  I also adore Derby parties.

Derby 2003.
Over the years, I’ve watched the Run from the Roses from Churchill Downs, from friends’ gatherings and from my own living room.  I’ve ordered mint juleps in official Derby glasses and I’ve made them from freshly cooled simple syrup and mint that I planted just for the occasion.  To me, making a big deal of Derby isn’t about having connections to the racing industry or knowing anything about gambling.  It’s simply a celebration of Kentucky.  One year, several of my aunts and cousins gathered at my grandmother’s house for a Derby party.  We watched the race and drew horse names from a bowl to determine our “pick.”  We made quarter bets, and my ever-so-religious grandmother insisted that the winner put the pot in the church offering plate the next morning.  To this day, it’s one of my fondest Derby memories.

When we lived in Nashville, I couldn’t let the celebration slip.  One year, I made a huge production of donning a festive Lilly Pulitzer dress and an over-the-top chapeaux, even though I was watching the race in the living room of our condo and my beau and our black lab were far more modestly attired.   Perhaps it was a little silly, but I felt connected to home in a profound way.

And they're off!
This year, I’ll be watching Derby with a small group of relatives in my hometown.  As I’ve planned the soiree with my mother, I’ve put together a list of my favorite Derby party recipes.

Derby Pie

Derby Pie was first created by the Kern family at the Melrose Inn in Prospect.  Although the official name of pastry has been trademarked by the Kerns, many variants of chocolate and nut pie have arisen across the state.  I still prefer to pick up an original Kerns Kitchen version.

Louisville Stoneware Hot Brown Plate
Mini Hot Browns

Hot browns are my favorite.  They’re rich and decadent.  And they have no place being eaten in front of people.  A great alternative is a little hot brown bite – there’s all of the comforting flavor, but none of the gooey mess nor resulting carb coma.

Cut several slices of bread into quarters and lightly toast.  On each toast point, layer a small amount of shaved turkey breast, provolone cheese, a slice of Roma tomato, and about half a piece of cooked bacon.  Place in toaster oven or in a warm oven until the cheese has melted and the tomato has slightly wilted. Serve immediately.

Beer cheese

I love beer cheese.  The sharp, tangy dip is an amazing compliment to crackers or crudités.  It’s also pretty awesome on a warm hamburger.  Beer cheese recipes across central Kentucky come in two varieties – standard and mayonnaise-included.  I prefer the former.  I love the flavor that Bourbon Barrel Ale gives beer cheese – the nutty, complex beer with a hint of bourbon is the perfect complement to the sharp tang of the cheese and garlic.

In a food processor, combine about 20 ounces of grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, 2 minced garlic cloves, 4 ounces of flat beer (Kentucky Ale Bourbon Barrel is my favorite for this recipe), and a dash each of salt and Tabasco sauce.  Pulse until smooth.  Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Mint Juleps
Louisville Stoneware Mint Julep Pitcher
Among Kentucky’s true bourbon aficionados, the recipe coined by Courier-Journal founding publisher Henry Watterson rings true:

 "Pluck the mint gently from its bed, just as the dew of the evening is about to form upon it ... Prepare the simple syrup and measure out a half-tumbler of whiskey.  Pour the whiskey into a well-frosted silver cup, throw the other ingredients away and drink the whiskey."
It just  isn’t Derby without a julep, though.  Just make a simple syrup: combine one cup water and one cup sugar in a saucepan.  Let the sugar dissolve in the water and allow the mixture to simmer slightly.  Remove from heat and let cool. (You can depart from the traditional “muddling” by infusing the syrup with mint -- just add a sprig of mint when you remove the syrup from the heat and let steep for about 15 minutes, then strain.)  Combine one part simple syrup to two parts bourbon (I prefer Maker’s Mark) in a small pitcher.  Add a mint leaf or two to each julep glass; muddle by pressing mint along the cup with the back of a spoon.  Pour bourbon-syrup mixture over crushed ice.  Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Benedictine Sandwiches

I’ve never been a huge Benedictine fan, but I’m dying to try my hand at making a batch of my own.   The famous cucumber spread invented by Louisville caterer and cookbook author Jennie Benedict is synonymous with the Derby City.

The recipe I want to try this year comes from the Courier-Journal:

· 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
· 3 tablespoons cucumber juice
· 1 tablespoon onion juice
· 1 teaspoon salt
· a few grains of cayenne pepper
· 2 drops green food coloring


To get the juice, peel and grate a cucumber, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze juice into a dish. Discard pulp. Do the same for the onion. Mix all ingredients with a fork until well blended. Using a blender will make the spread too runny."

What do y’all serve at Derby Parties?

Sarah's 20 Things


  1. Patti's Boat Sinker Pie 
  2. The Judds
  3. Wide open Western Kentucky sky
  4. The Kentucky Derby
  5. Kentucky Lake
  6. Leigh's Barbecue
  7. Old Morrison
  8. bell hooks
  9. Bluegrass music
  10. Abraham Lincoln
  11. Transylvania University
  12. Kern's Kitchen Derby Pie...and the fact that they serve it in the cafeteria at Transy.
  13. Loretta Lynn 
  14. Blue Moon of Kentucky...as sung by just about anyone.
  15. Barbara Kingsolver
  16. The Appalachian Mountains
  17. Wendell Berry
  18. Paducah
  19. Grater's ice cream
  20. Kentuckians
~ Sarah Stewart Holland