Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

~ This incredibly easy, no-butter, bar cookie version of the always-popular Derby Pie is the perfect dessert for a weekday dinner or a party! Filled with whole grains, it’s fabulously decadent yet so nutritious! ~

This Recipe Is:     Make Ahead    Vegetarian  

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

I am a happy, happy food blogger when my taste-testing sessions go like this one did …

My son kinda closed his eyes in joyous delirium and said, “Best dessert. EVER.”

Hmmmmm …

Ok. Solid start.

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}Then he chirped through his mouthful of crumbs, “You know what I want for my birthday treat next year? That. And ice cream … if only you could make some healthy ice cream. Please??

Ok, well. The ice cream is a whole ‘nother issue. But when a kid says something is worthy of being his birthday dessert … you know.

It seriously doesn’t get better than that.

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

The pecans and dates that form the base of these cookie bars (and replace the butter found in typical cookies) will not be completely smooth once combined in your food processor. The texture will be just slightly grainy and very thick.

But then it did!

Because then my husband tasted it and exclaimed, “I also want him to have that for his birthday!” (As he cut himself another piece … and another …)

And then my son, who is normally about the most genuinely compassionate, sharing child you could ever hope to meet, learned that I needed to pass along some of this creation to Gretchen’s family so they could try it. My previously oh-so-generous son didn’t even hesitate: “Only give them a little bit, ’cause we want it!”

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

Photo 1 shows the thick, slightly grainy combination of pecans and dates as they look after being taken out of the food processor. In photo 2, the brown sugar, egg and vanilla have been added, and you can see that the mixture smooths out beautifully. In photo 3, the dry ingredients have been mixed into the batter, just to the point that the ingredients are thoroughly combined and suddenly come together to form a very, very thick dough.

No really, this is the kind of dessert you don’t want to share. Not even with good friends and people you like a whole lot. Even your besties just aren’t worth this.

Hide from them, and eat this all yourself.

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

I won’t tell. In fact, I encourage it. (Mostly because it will make me feel better about myself and my sweet little son!)

With the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, I wanted one thing: to concoct an utterly delicious yet much healthier nod to the famed Derby Pie. I guess I succeeded. I apparently also turned my son into a ruthless, un-generous little hoarder … but that seems a small price to pay, really.

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

If you have whole pecans on hand, and don’t have a nut chopper, simply use a measuring cup or drinking glass to crush them before sprinkling them on top of the dough. Press the pecans in to ensure they don’t fall off after baking.

Good Derby Pie isn’t crumbly or crunchy like a cookie, but rich and luxurious and ultra-moist. Kind of like if the best chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever tasted and a gloriously decadent pecan pie had a love child.

Created at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, the original recipe for Derby Pie remains a closely guarded secret. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most iconic foods of the Kentucky Derby (well, besides Mint Juleps … but that’s another story).

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

This THK version is dense and rich and chewy … bursting with chocolaty, brown-sugary, pecan-y goodness. Love child, indeed.

Yet with not one bit of butter or even oil anywhere in sight. The technique is cribbed from my beloved Pistachio-White Chocolate (No Butter!) Butter Cookies. They’re insanely good and, well … so are these.

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

Too good to share, sadly.

But that’s ok – the Derby only lasts for about two minutes, so there’s really no time to invite friends over, anyway.

Ah – problem solved, then.

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}

You’re welcome.

THK By Shelley

We’d Love to Hear From You!

For birthdays, does your family prefer “traditional” cakes, or are you open to other favorite desserts, too? I used to spend hours creating Wilton-inspired cake extravaganzas, but lately we’ve embraced less-typical birthday treats, like tiramisu (and, apparently, these cookie bars!). Gretchen’s family has done everything from a sundae bar to ice cream cakes to traditional cakes … whatever the kiddos request. Head on down to the comment box at the very bottom of this post and tell us about your family’s traditions (and give us your thoughts on our Derby Cookie Bars!). We can’t wait to hear from you!

Oh, and don’t forget … you can like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also be the first to know about our latest posts by simply entering your e-mail in the box at the top right corner of our page!

Want More Easy, Healthy Cookie Recipes? You’ve Gotta Try Our:

Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars

Preparation 20 min. 2017-07-22T00:20:00+00:00 Cook Time 18-19 min. (plus cooling) 2017-07-22T00:00:00+00:00
Serves 16 two-inch bars     adjust servings


  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 5 whole dried, pitted dates
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped or crushed
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a mini food processor, process ¾ cup pecans and dates until fairly smooth (pulsing for about 3 minutes), scraping sides of processor occasionally as needed. (The consistency will not be totally smooth and will be a thick, slightly grainy paste like very, very thick natural peanut butter.)
  3. Transfer pecan mixture to a large mixing bowl and add ¾ cup brown sugar, egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes until very well incorporated, scraping bowl once or twice as needed.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt, stirring with a whisk to thoroughly combine.
  5. Add flour mixture to pecan mixture and beat on medium-low just until combined, about 1 minute (dough will suddenly thicken, come together, and cling to beaters). Do not over-mix. Dough will be sticky and very, very thick.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips.
  7. Press mixture into an 8x8 baking pan coated with cooking spray. (If you're having a lot of difficulty with the dough being too sticky, very slightly damp fingers will help.) Smooth top with a spatula or scraper.
  8. Firmly press remaining brown sugar and chopped pecans into dough.
  9. Bake for about 18-19 minutes. The bars will be only very slightly golden – do not over-bake by waiting until they are golden-brown or your bars will be dry.
  10. Cool completely before cutting.
  11. Store in an airtight container.


Recipe Notes

Flour: If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour on hand, you can substitute ½ all-purpose flour and ½ regular whole wheat flour. However, we prefer the nutritional advantage of using all whole-wheat pastry flour, and our tasters also slightly preferred the taste of the version made with whole-wheat pastry flour.

Make-Ahead Option: These freeze beautifully. Wrap each bar in plastic and store in a zipper-bag in the freezer, then thaw individually when you want a quick dessert.

We'd love to see your photos of this recipe! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and tag @TwoHealthyKitchens!


Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}
Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars Recipe {}


Kentucky Derby Chocolate-Pecan Cookie Bars — 53 Comments

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  4. Oh my goodness. I have seriously picky eaters at home from husband to kiddos. Everyone LOVED these. My husband begged me to make more so he could take them to work. I found your blog last week and so far this is all I have made but I am planning to make plenty of your snack bites as well. Thank you for this recipe.

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  6. Really, who wants to share when something tastes so good. These bars look delicious! I’d take these for my everyday dessert. I love how your son asked for these for his birthday. That right there tells you they are pretty awesome 😀

    • Haha, Cindy! You’re so right about that sharing thing! We’d share with you, though, for sure (even if we had to sneak them past our kiddos! 😀 )! And no kidding – they are every bit that awesome! You know how … even though you work with healthy recipes all the time … every once in a while you create one that still kinda shocks you at how amazing a healthier dessert recipe can be? Yeah – these Derby Bars are that recipe! 😀 ~G&S

    • Oh, Trish – if pecans are your fave, then you will for sure love these all the more! They’re truly fantastic, and we always feel so great about our families having them for a treat because they’re so loaded with good-quality protein from the pecans, plus lots of whole grain goodness! The kiddos are thrilled to have such a yummy dessert, and as a mom, you’re thrilled to have given them something so packed with nutrition! That’s a mommy high-five, for sure! 😀 ~G&S

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  8. Just printed out this recipe. I have all of my “go to now” favorites in a handy folder for quick reference.
    We will be eating these cookie bars before and maybe during and definitely after the Kentucky Derby!

    • We’re so honored to have made it into the “go to now” folder! And so excited that these bars will be part of your Derby festivities! Hope you’ll stop back and let us know what you think! 😀 ~G&S

  9. Hmm.. i wonder if it will still be as good if i remove some sugar as well. Is there cookies with no butter and sugar? 🙂 I know.. Have never tried baking with dates, but i think i am ready for it. Have not seen Whole Wheat Pastry flour, but maybe i have not been looking?
    For birthdays we do big extravagant cartoon-character cakes like Big Thomas cake or McQueen. This year it’s going to be Spiderman Cake and Power Rangers cake. But i cheat, try to make it as healthy as i can– apple sauce instead of oil, 1/2 sugar then in regular recipes. Kids eat it up and ask for seconds 🙂

    • Hi, Nikki! Thanks so much for the great questions!

      Actually, I can tell you that these cookie bars definitely will still be good with even a little less sugar. We test all of our recipes pretty extensively, and are always looking for ways to bump up the nutrition while minimizing things like unnecessary sugar. In one of my test batches, I cut the brown sugar back from 3/4 cup to 2/3 cup. Were they still good? Yep – still pretty darn good. Were they AS good – no. Honestly, not quite. And that’s why our final version has 3/4 cup – we’re always looking for the exact spot (the “sweet spot” – haha 😀 ) where really healthy meets super-delicious. In our opinion, 3/4 cup is that “sweet spot” for this recipe. It’s only about an additional 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar for the entire pan of cookies if you stick with our recommended 3/4 cup, but that little additional sweetness makes a difference. However, if you’re working hard to reduce your sugar intake, then I definitely think you should try this recipe with 2/3 cup. I think you’ll still enjoy the final product for sure!

      Oh – and about those dates! Yes, yes, yes! Try them! Dates add a lot of sweetness, and can really augment a chewy texture and caramel-y, brown sugar flavor. If you’re careful in how many you use, you’ll never even taste the date flavor at all! Pssst … looking for more ideas for using dates in baking? Check out our recipe for Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins with Caramel Swirl (hint hint … the caramel flavor is largely created by healthy dates!).

      And, about the whole wheat pastry flour – we held off on using it in too many of our recipes until we felt that it was common enough that most of our readers could easily track it down. Of the four very typical, mainstream grocery stores near us, all but one stock it. So, I think you’ll find it easily if you take a peek. We commonly find Bob’s Red Mill brand on our local shelves. If you’re having trouble finding it, though – then definitely just take our suggestion of using 1/2 regular whole wheat flour and 1/2 white, all-purpose flour. Not quite as healthy, and we actually didn’t like the final product quite as well as with the whole-wheat pastry flour (surprising, huh?) – but they’re still terrific and definitely worth making with the 50/50 blend until you find the whole wheat pastry flour.

      And hey – love your descriptions of those character cakes! I used to spend hours (hours!!!!) decorating cakes like that when my kiddos were littler. So worth it when you see how their faces light up at the final “work of art”! High-five for all the healthy subs in those cakes! Amazing how little changes can really add up – without anyone even realizing it! That’s so awesome!

      Thanks again for stopping by and for so many really great questions! Hope I was able to help! 😀 ~Shelley

    • Thanks so much, guys! Gotta have some sort of pecan bars or Derby Pie with the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, and these are such a deliciously healthful way to do it! Hope you love ’em every bit as much as our families do! 😀 ~G&S

  10. Oh I love that these are rich and ultra moist, exactly how I love my cookie bars! I really love cooking/baking with dates. They add a subtle sweetness and enhance the flavor of the other ingredients. I hope you had a wonderful weekend, ladies!

    • Ashley – you are dead-on with your description! Rich and ultra moist, for sure! Yep – we just love dates, too! Their flavor has that magical hint of caramel that just elevates baked goods. And as long as we don’t over-do it, we find that nobody even realizes they’re in there! Especially great since they also lend a healthier boost of sweetness and so much wonderfully chewy moisture to any item you bake them in! Yum! 😀 ~G&S

  11. I am with your husband and son – I also want these for my birthday! They look soo good! My mouth is actually watering! I love pecan anything and I love how you managed to make these healthier by making a cookie crust with dates (I can’t get enough of them!). Pinned!!!

    • You’re so hilarious, Ceara! And hey – that’s a super-easy birthday wish to grant! You’re just gonna loooove these, especially if you love pecans! And the dates really are kinda magical here, but no one will ever guess your secret! Thanks a million for the pin, girlfriend! Have an awesome week! 😀 ~G&S

  12. Wow, lovely pictures, looks delicious. I would like to invite you to my blog, especially to “work lunches” category which treats about healthy, quick food to work.

    • Thanks so much, Kate! You’re just gonna love these – they’re every bit as yummy as they look (or, honestly, maybe even yummier! 😀 )! Looking forward to checking out your blog, too! Have a fabulous week! ~G&S

    • Hey, Alyssa! It really is kinda magically surprising how terrific these are without the typical butter or oil! And yep – when they got voted in as birthday snack, we knew they were stellar – doesn’t get much better than that, right?!?! 😀 ~G&S

    • I know, right!?!? What could be better than a totally fabulous birthday snack you don’t even have to feel guilty about?!?! (Especially since, on your birthday, you for sure will need a couple extra servings! 😀 ) Thanks a million for the pin, too! 😀 ~Shelley

    • Thanks so much, Julie! We’re really excited for you to try this recipe, too! It’s easy to whip up, especially since bar cookies save all the time of portioning out and shaping each individual cookie. And seriously – what kiddo wouldn’t want these showing up in their lunchbox? They won’t know (or care) that they’re healthy … they’ll just care that they taste decadently, deliciously amazing! (Could possibly even earn you a mom-of-the-year nomination in appreciation – lol! 😀 ) Have an awesome week! ~G&S

    • Hey, Jess! They seriously, seriously are! You’re gonna be surprised just how divine! When you see all those much-healthier ingredients going in … it’s amazing how the cookies that come out don’t taste health-ified at all. They just taste … well, divine! 😀 ~G&S

    • Hi, Michelle! So excited that you stopped by! We just found Tasty Tuesdays, and it’s really so fun – just oodles of great recipes! Excited to check out your blog, too! 😀 And we can’t wait for you to make these, either! Despite the somewhat unusual methodology, they’re really a snap to prepare! One of the great things about bar cookies is how stinkin’ easy they are to make, and these are no exception! Your kids will definitely love them … and you will, too! Plus, you’ll love knowing that your family’s dessert is loaded with protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and even a bit of fruit! So awesome! Thanks again for popping by – have a fabulous week! ~G&S

    • Oh, Debi! My son will be so happy to know that I’ve got you working on his healthy ice cream project! Actually, I have a feeling the kids and I will be working on lots of healthy ice cream recipes this summer. I’ve got a lovely ice cream maker that hasn’t seen nearly enough use. And of course, with this cold, cold Ohio winter, I sure haven’t been in the mood to taste-test chilly ice cream lately! Thanks so much for the really sweet comment – for such a creative cook like you to say that Gretchen and I inspired you in any way – well that means a whole lot to us! 😀 ~Shelley

      • I’m so excited!!! Can I just tell you that the first “draft” of the ice cream came out amazing!!!! My husband said it tasted like it was regular premium ice cream from the store but with no bloated dairy after-feel! Thank you thank you for the idea! I have one more revision to make before I finalize. Is it ok with you if I post and tweak your recipe, with a link back, of course!!!
        And, as far as weather, it’s been 90+ here all week and mostly windy. I don’t need this much summer in April and May!
        thanks again!! 🙂

    • I know, right!?!? If the kiddos love them that much, then I’m sure I’ve got a winning recipe! It’s one of the huge benefits of having little taste-testing minions … adults like lots of things, but when Gretchen and I get a recipe worked out to the point that our kids love it, too – then we know we’ve got it just right and it’s ready to share! 😀 ~Shelley

    • Hey, Helen! You know, it’s funny that you say that – these are a bit unusual in terms of technique, but what we found so interesting is how they bake up to taste totally, completely NOT unusual! They just taste like a really awesome cookie. So cool that a little creativity with healthy ingredients can yield something that no one would ever guess is healthy! You’re totally right – healthy, but still such a fabulous treat! 😀 ~G&S

  13. Shelley, your son is just the cutest thing!! For a kid to ask for something to be their birthday dessert… That’s the biggest compliment you could ever ask for! And then requesting healthy ice cream? Total brownie points. You raised him well! Now if only I lived a little closer and could sneak a bite (or five) too…

    • Oh, Amy – I totally wish I could take credit for what a good little dude my son is – that I am such a great parent to be raising such a sweet guy! But honestly, he was really such a good-hearted little person right from the very beginning! Plus, he loves to eat and to try my new concoctions 😀 ! And you’re right – when he said this was the best ever and should be his birthday “cake” for next year – well, I knew 100% no doubt that this was every bit as delicious as I’d hoped it would be – maybe even more so! And lucky for him, even after the huge success of that very first batch, of course I baked up several more test batches to see if I could cut more sugar, swap in various flours, etc. – so he got to taste-test plenty more trial versions … and we’re not even close to his next birthday yet (one of the perks of living with a food blogger)! Oh – and I sure wish you lived closer, too! I’d definitely make some of these for you! 😀 ~Shelley

    • The dates are just fantastic here! You don’t taste them specifically, but they beautifully add to the caramely-brown sugar taste of a great chocolate chip cookie! Plus, they’re such a healthy way to boost sweetness and add moist, chewy texture – bonus! Thanks for popping by, Juliana! Hope you have a great week, too! 😀 ~G&S

  14. So excited to try these–yum! We frequently make icebox cake for birthdays–using those chocolate wafer cookies (layered with fresh whipped cream then stack into a roll) as that was my favorite cake growing up!

    • Hi, Lisa! Thanks so much for your lovely comment! Can’t wait for you to try these! They really are fabulous, but we feel so much better serving our families dessert when it’s loaded with whole grains and gets its fat from protein-loaded nuts rather than butter! And hey – that icebox cake sounds amazing! Don’t you just love the nostalgia of food-related childhood memories!?! Hope we’re creating some of those for our kiddos! Have an awesome week, and thanks again for your comment – totally appreciated! 😀 ~G&S

    • Lol! If you play lacrosse or even soccer with him, you might be able to sweet talk him into sharing just a little with you! 😀 Thanks so much for the sweet comment, Maureen! We are so totally not kidding about how fantastic these are! Every bit as good as they look! ~G&S

    • They really are killer-good! Kinda even surprises us a little that cookies with so many healthy swaps actually taste so outrageously good! The whole wheat pastry flour works perfectly, with so many nutritious advantages! Score one for the “good guys”! 😀 ~G&S

  15. These are really good. I have a feeling I will be making these many times since I now have the recipe! I feel very special to get a sample. Apparently you do share! Thank you!

    • Marrie, you’re so sweet to leave a comment – thank you! I remember how much you loved these when I brought some over! And, ummmmmm … yes, I do share (trying to set a good example, you know), but you can’t imagine the difficulty I had sneaking some of these out of the house when no one else was looking! Lol! Can’t wait for you to try making these (’cause you know where to find us if you have extras! 😀 )! ~Shelley

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