Originally I was going to call these Chocolate Walnut Shortbread Bars or a similar, rather unimaginative name. However, after a bit of research, I discovered that they are actually a delicious bar twist on traditional Derby Pie. And so, I christened them Derby Pie Shortbread Bars.
Kern’s Kitchen, the company that produces original Derby Pie®, says the manager of the Melrose Inn in Prospect Kentucky and his parents developed that famed chocolate walnut sweet in the 1950s. According to Kern’s, the recipe is “top secret.” Still, I do know the ingredients because the company lists them (deeply embedded) on its website. Derby pie contains sugar, margarine, walnuts, eggs, semisweet chocolate, flour, butter, and vanilla extract.
Like Kern’s pie (or at least the picture on the company’s site), my Derby Pie Shortbread Bars are a three-layer affair. However, I’ve “gone rogue” when it comes to what each layer contains.
Instead of thin pie crust, thick sweet filling and a nutty top, I’ve gone for a three more equal layers The bottom is a shortbread base. Next comes melted bittersweet chocolate. Finally, a walnut filling with an optional grated walnut topping. Ingredient-wise, there are three basic differences between these bars and a true Derby Pie. First, unlike Derby Pie, my bars do not contain eggs or margarine. Second, I use bittersweet not semisweet chocolate and light brown, rather than granulated sugar. And third, my bars contain a touch of heavy cream and honey. Even with those changes, the bar tastes like a hand-held version of a chocolate walnut pie.
Why post this recipe in February when the Kentucky Derby is not until May? Like many of my posts, this one evolved out of a combination of necessity and coincidence.
This month’s Progressive Eats theme is Southern food. It sounded wonderful and I do love many Southern dishes. Still, I was somewhat at a loss as to what my contribution should be. I’m not from the South and do not do much Southern cooking myself. I searched my blog archives and could only come up with three truly Southern recipes, chocolate chess pie, old fashioned biscuits and cornmeal-crusted okra. If you count Washington, DC as Southern city, maybe I get to four, with old fashioned (not sweet) corn muffins.
Given our theme, I decided to check out books and sites specializing in Southern cooking. And with my sweet tooth, you can imagine that I gravitated to desserts. Walnut and pecan recipes kept catching my eye. By coincidence, I had baked a version of this chocolate walnut shortbread bar a few months ago. After friends raved about it, I decided to work on the base, and then blog about it. So this bar, now renamed, seemed like my logical contribution to a Southern meal.
My recipe combines several others with a few adaptations.
I adapted the filling from an old Epicurious favorite pecan pie bar. The chocolate layer in-between comes from a comment on the Epicurious pecan pie bars, and the dusting of fresh ground walnuts is my own flight of fancy.
If you’re a shortbread aficionado, you may notice that my version is a bit unusual. According to an article in The Guardian (a British newspaper that has great food coverage and recipes), traditional shortbread contains just flour, softened or chilled butter, and caster sugar. (The American names for caster are superfine or bar sugar.) Over time, cooks began to add a small amount of rice flour or semolina to provide a bit more of a crumbly texture to the biscuit.
Why This Recipe Is Not Traditional
For the shortbread base, I’ve made three changes to the traditional recipe.
- First, I melted the butter, a trick I picked up from Nicole Rees’ Fine Baking article on shortbread.
- Second, I used confectioners or powdered sugar instead of superfine. In the US, confectioners or powdered is easier to find and, like superfine, it dissolves quickly.
- Third, instead of rice flour, I added cornstarch.
Why cornstarch? Well, I’m a Nigella Lawson fan. She adds a few tablespoons of cornstarch to her Victoria sponge cake in one of her earliest books, How to be a Domestic Goddess. After making that cake and seeing how cornstarch softened the texture, I decided to follow her lead. No question – I am far from a southern belle. Still, I admire a woman who aims to make me a domestic goddess and don’t mind following her advice.
Like shortbread, this buttery base may not always stay in place as you cut the bars. Still, I didn’t hear any complaints about the crumbs.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. Each recipe in our menu this month features food from the South, and our host is Karen, who blogs at Karen’s Kitchen Stories.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, it’s a virtual party. After the host choses our theme for the month, our members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party. Using the links below, you can hop from blog to blog to check them out. Come along and see all of the delicious dishes from the South!
Food from The South
- Sweet Tea Sangria – The Redheaded Baker
- Southern Pimento Cheese + Roasted Broccoli Bites – The Wimpy Vegetarian
- Southern Pecan Bread – Creative Culinary
- Spicy Sauteed Kale with Andouille Sausage – From A Chef’s Kitchen
- Old-Fashioned Southern Banana Pudding – That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Derby Pie Shortbread Bars – Mother Would Know (you’re here!)
Derby Pie Shortbread Bars
With a shortbread base, a layer of chocolate and a rich, walnut-studded filling, these Derby Pie Shortbread Bars will soon become one of your favorite sweet treats.
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 sticks minus 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons, flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 7 ounces bittersweet or extra dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 cups walnuts, chopped + optional 1/4 cup ground to top the bars 8 ounces
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/2 cup or 1 stick (4 ounces)
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream Can substitute full fat milk
Line a 13 x 9-inch pan (preferably metal) with foil. If necessary for full coverage, use one long piece for the 13-inch length and another shorter one for the 9-inch width of the pan, placing them in a cross pattern. Let the long piece of foil hang over the short sides of the pan by about 2 inches for easy removal of the bars once they have cooled. Lightly grease the pan (especially the sides) with either nonstick cooking oil spray or melted butter.
Melt the butter and let it cool slightly to just warm. Mix the butter, sugar, and salt in a medium-size bowl until combined.
Whisk the flour and cornstarch together. Then, add them to the mixture and stir until combined.
Press the shortbread base dough into the prepared pan evenly all around, prick it with a fork, and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes.
While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the crust on the middle rack for about 20 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown.
Chocolate Layer & Walnut Filling
About 15 minutes into the baking time for the dough, mix the butter, brown sugar, honey and heavy cream in a medium-size saucepan or pot. Stir occasionally and let it simmer for about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the chopped walnuts and take the filling off the heat.
As soon as the base is finished baking, take it out of the oven, sprinkle the chopped chocolate over it.
Gently smooth out the chocolate with a knife or heat-resistant spatula. If the chocolate does not completely melt right away, put the base with the chocolate pieces back in the oven for just a minute, then remove it and continue smoothing out the chocolate until it is an even layer.
Dot teaspoonfuls of the still-warm walnut filling over the chocolate, gently spread it out evenly, and bake the bars for about 20 minutes, just until the center is set. If desired, grind walnuts over the top either before or after baking - or both if you're a fan of the look and taste of the "walnut snow."
Let the uncut pan of base, chocolate, and walnut filling completely cool in the pan before removing it from the pan by flipping the pan over onto one cutting board, then putting another cutting board on top and flipping it right side up. and cutting them. You can either pull off the foil before putting the second cutting board on top or leave it on and gently lift the bars off the foil with a thin spatula after you cut them.
An small offset metal spatula works well for smoothing out the chocolate layer and afterwards, for smoothing out the walnut mixture over the chocolate. If you do not have one, use a butter knife or other knife with a flat (i.e.not-sharp) blade.
The walnut filling hardens quickly and can be difficult to spread out as it cools, so leave it to stay warm on the stove until the chocolate layer is done, then dot it on the chocolate in small amounts - teaspoonfuls if possible.
These bars are rich. Therefore, I prefer to cut them small. I cut the 13 x 9-inch pan into 48 squares each 1 & 1/2-inches. Whether you make them that size, or go for larger pieces, use a large knife or cleaver to cut. It is best to begin by cutting at the mid-point of the side, then cut each half into halves or thirds and proceed in that manner to make the pieces as small as you wish. For 48 squares from a 13 x 9-inch pan, you cut the short side into half then each half into thirds, and the long side into half, then quarters - or 6 cuts on the short side and 8 on the long side.