The Kentucky Derby is this Saturday, and although I’m not a follower of thoroughbreds or an avid watcher of the race, I am a huge fan of the food that surrounds the festivities. Mint Juleps, Kentucky Hot Brown, and Benedictine (cucumber spread) are all traditional Derby eats. They’re also from my general neck of the woods. We enjoy them year-round and without the brouhaha of a horse race, but it’s nice to see them getting the extra attention they deserve come the first Saturday in May.
Derby Pie is another traditional food which surrounds the race – literally. It’s sold at Churchill Downs racetrack on Derby Day. It’s a walnut-chocolate-bourbon confection that inspired these two-bite truffles. If you’ve ever tasted Derby Pie, then I think you’ll find these truffles to be equally Kentuckified.
The original pie (a Kern’s Kitchen creation circa 1950) uses walnuts in the batter, so that’s what I’m using here. Pecans are sometimes substituted, but I’m not totally convinced that makes Derby Pie.
The truffle filling is pretty simple. It’s a mixture of ground walnuts, brown sugar, shortbread crumbs, bourbon, and a little maple syrup to hold things together. You’ll roll the filling into walnut-sized pieces and freeze them until firm before dipping them in melted chocolate.
I learned the hard way that these truffles must be dipped while frozen, and that the melted chocolate should have a thin, pourable consistency. Otherwise the truffles will fall apart in the chocolate. After I learned those two things, it was smooth sailing going forward.
I liked these best with a three-quarter covering of chocolate (like buckeyes!), but you can cover them completely if you prefer. They are absolutely delicious and I could not stop eating them. I had three for breakfast with coffee, which is quite different from my morning smoothie routine but I have no regrets!
I find these truffles to be slightly less sweet than Derby Pie, but they still hold all the nutty flavor and charm. These are certainly Derby Day appropriate, but I’m also eyeing them for winter holiday cookie trays. They’d be a perfect homespun gift!
The horseshoe picks I used for serving are for purchase here.
Derby Pie Truffles
Yields about 28 pieces
I began this recipe with a bag of Fischer walnut halves and pieces. Toast the walnuts at 350°F for 5-7 minutes, watching constantly to prevent burning. Cool before chopping. The shortbread crumbs can be made by grinding approximately 19 shortbread cookies (one sleeve of Trefoils if you’re a Girl Scouts cookie-buyer).
2 1/2 cups (about 10 oz./285g) toasted walnuts, finely chopped
1 cup (4.75 oz./135g) shortbread crumbs
1 cup (210g) light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60ml) bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus extra if needed
10 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening or coconut oil, optional
Stir together the walnuts, cookie crumbs, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the bourbon, vanilla and maple syrup. Mix the ingredients together using your hands to make sure they are fully incorporated. The mixture should hold together when squeezed in your palm.
Scoop the mixture using a tablespoon measure and press it into walnut-sized pieces. Place on a lined baking sheet. Freeze until solid, about one hour.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler bowl (or in the microwave). If the chocolate is thick, melt 2 tablespoons of shortening or coconut oil and stir it into the melted chocolate. When the mixture is smooth and pourable, dip the frozen truffles into the chocolate using a fork. Tap the fork on the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate, and use another fork to place the dipped truffles onto the lined baking sheet. Let the candies stand until firm, about 20 minutes.
Store the truffles at room temperature in an airtight container. I also enjoyed eating these chilled, so I kept a few in the refrigerator.