When I was a child we spent family holidays at the Headlands in Cornwall, a proper old-fashioned seaside hotel with a sprung-floor ballroom, a bar serving cocktails with plastic monkeys hanging from the glasses, and a dress-for-dinner dinner in the dining room, overlooking the crashing ocean, accompanied by a man on a piano mostly playing Memories from Cats.
In the evenings our entertainment was meticulously scheduled by the manager to ensure maximum organized fun: quiz night, disco night, and, best of all Horse Racing Night.
My cousins and I would watch in fascination as the vast plastic game board was rolled out onto the ballroom floor, and as the giant foam dice (bigger than a child) were hoisted up onto the stage. Adults gathered, the pianist finished Lady In Red and went off for a cigarette, pina coladas were ordered – we tried to steal the monkeys. And then the manager took to the mic wearing his best DJ and a winning smile and we were off.
At the start of each race guests would volunteer to be horses. Theyâ€™d dress in a sash and a jocky cap. Then everyone else would bid to â€œownâ€ them and bet money on whether theyâ€™d win or not.
Now I was brought up Methodist. My grandpa is so Methodist â€“ a whole other sect of Methodism called Independent Methodism, no less â€“ that he refuses to play Beetle drive, hasn’t Â had a drink in 96 years and shows no sign of wanting to hot foot it down to the pub any time soon. Ergo,Â betting on a giant board game was absolutely my only exposure to gambling as a child â€“ and one that I found exciting beyondÂ imagining.
I also liked to dress up as the Horse as often as possible, but that’s another story.
Days after Jon and I got engaged we went to Las Vegas on an incredible 40 buck a night deal at the Luxor. We gazed in wonder at the slot machines in the elevators, then looked back at each other furtively; I thought Methodism was rigid – Jon was brought up Quaker.
So there we were, free cocktails in hand, free get-you-started chips on the blackjack table, taking the house by our own specially devised method â€“ drinking in free drinks more than we lost in gambling. It was brilliant.
It seems to me that thereâ€™s something of this spirit of innocent fun about the Kentucky Derby too.
The hats, the gloves (love a glove moment) the mint juleps and, of course the Southern Food.
From the moment I heard about Thoroughbred Pie I was enchanted. The name alone. Thoroughbred pie. Amazing. And once I discovered that it was in fact a chocolate chip pie I was convinced. And thereâ€™s bourbon in it.
For the pastry (or use a pre-bought pie shell â€“ I tried a Whole Foods one recently that was really delicious):9 inch pie dish (or something close) 6 oz flour 3 oz cold fat â€“ I use half butter half lard, which gives a light crisp flaky crust. Butter tends to make a harder crust. Tip from my grandma. Scant 1 tbsp ish of ice cold water Pinch of salt
For the filling:Â½ cup unsalted butter 2 large eggs 1 cup sugar (if you have it to hand, take out 2 tbsp and replace with 2 tbsp of brown sugar to add a deeper flavor) Â½ cup flour 200g (2 bars of Green and Blacks) dark chocolate chopped into chips (about 1 cup) 1 Â½ cup pecans 2 tbsp bourbon (optional â€“ 1 cup cream for whipping and serving alongside)
- Start with the pastry:
- Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt, and cut up the cold butter and lard into a dice
- Tip the fat into the flour and rub through your fingers until the mixture resembles sand. If the mixture becomes oily, chill in the fridge for 5 mins then carry on. (You can do this in a food processor, in which case blitz for about 1 minute.)
- Add 1 tbsp of ice cold water and mix with a knife to bring the dough together. If the dough is still like sand add more water a tsp at a time until the dough forms a ball. (In the processor, add the water down the feed tube and pulse to bring the dough together, finishing with your hands)
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap (or in a ziplock bag) and rest in the fridge for at least half an hour
- Pre heat the oven to 425 f (about 220c)
- Roll out the pastry into a pie dish, (about 9 inches) then bake for 10 mins until itâ€™s just starting to harden up. Take out the pie and turn the oven down to 350f
- Onto the filling: melt the butter and let it cook so that it browns slightly â€“ this gives the filling a rich nutty flavor. Allow it to cool (but stay liquid)
- Meanwhile, spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and warm them in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up â€“ you should be able to smell when theyâ€™re done â€“ but keep an eye on Â them to make sure they donâ€™t burn
- Mix the sugar into the melted butter until dissolved, then stir in the flour, pecans, half of the chocolate, and the bourbon until combined
- Sprinkle the rest of the chocolate directly into the pie shell, then pour the filling on top
- Bake for 25 – 30 mins until set
- Serve with whipped cream