Butter buns, your best Kentucky Derby bet in years.

In Spring you can find a number of Louisvillians who will quite possibly bet you they can go Ptolemy one better. They will not only insist that the stars, moon and sun revolve around the earth, but that the axis of our universe pivots on a mid-sized American city built at a fossil-laden kink in the Ohio River. Doctrinal proofs include The Great Gatsby, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger bats, the opening scene of Stripes, and of course “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”  (If encouraged, they will also remind you of “Golden Boy” Paul Hornung, Diane Sawyer, Tom Cruise and Modjeska candies.)

We Gourmandistanis understand that some of our readers may not even know of the Kentucky Derby, much less be planning some entertainment around it. However, we do admit to being veterans of decades of Derbies. Recently, a few of you have asked us for Derby party planning advice. Steve’s instinct was to say “avoid them.” Michelle, however, thought it would be nicer to actually try to explore some standard Derby dishes, perhaps making them better. Our first task was improving the foundation of many a Derby fête: beef tenderloin with Henry Bain sauce on Camelot buns.

Despite the beliefs of our geocentric brethren, “Henry Bain” and “Camelot bun” may be gibberish to many of you, and deserve a bit of explanation. Henry Bain sauce is a robust reddish concoction meant to be served with game, but gets slathered on tasteless beef tenderloin at just about every Derby gathering (and at miscellaneous Kentucky parties throughout the year). Spicy and peppery with some sweet undertones, the sauce was invented by Henry Bain, an African American who, according to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, worked his way early in the 20th century from “elevator boy” to “Captain Henry” at Louisville’s tony Pendennis Club. There are about as many local variations of the sauce as there are bad Derby wagers, but this Derby season we chose to start with the Courier-Journal’s recipe, then toning down the spice a bit because we actually wanted to taste the beef and cutting back on the watery Worcestershire so the finished sauce wouldn’t turn the bread to mush. Instead of a whole tenderloin, Steve seared and then oven-roasted a couple of local beef filets that he’d seasoned a few hours earlier with salt and pepper.  Then we sliced and served the beef while still warm on our improved “Camelot buns,” which turned into one of the real “winners” to “show” at our “place.” (We’re hip to track lingo, you dig?)

“Camelot buns” are sort of like Louisville’s Bethel Bakery cookies, only the actual Camelot Bakery closed years ago, leaving various local vendors carrying their particular versions of butter buns. (“CookieGate,” by the way, may be one of the few times Gourmandistanis have ever felt a bit sorry for Mitt Romney, who quite possibly correctly identified the bakery cookies as looking kind of crappy.) Sold in bags by the dozen, these crosses between biscuits and buns are expected to hold up to a hefty dollop of Henry Bain sauce as well as a cold slab of cooked beef, but are too often gummy and tasteless. We were determined to do better, and a bit of searching turned up a rather mystifying recipe for “luncheon rolls” from famed Louisville caterer Jennie Benedict’s recently republished 1922 Blue Ribbon Cook Book that indicated neither oven temperature nor flour amount nor rising time. (Benedict, for those who still haven’t dedicated their lives to learning about Louisville, invented the cucumber-and-cream cheese tea sandwich spread known as Benedictine which also often turns up on Derby buffets, an accomplishment Steve curses to this very day.) Our first batch of these triple-rising yeast rolls was a delicious near miss, but our second effort (with an additional egg yolk) produced almost perfect replicas—the only “blemish” being that they tasted worlds better than any store-bought “Camelot bun.”

So if you must do Derby, do yourself a favor and make some of these buns for your tenderloin and Henry Bain sauce. And remember, this May 5th the eyes of everyone will be on Louisville. (What’s that? Cinco de Mayo? Is that some sort of quaint local festival?) Stay tuned—more Derby dishes are on the way!


  • Servings: about 12 buns
  • Print

(adapted from Jennie Benedict’s Blue Ribbon Cook Book )

  • 1/2 c. scalded milk
  • 2 TB sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/8 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 TB melted butter, with a bit extra for brushing
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, well beaten
  • About 2-1/4 c. flour

Add sugar and salt to hot milk; dissolve in yeast when milk has cooled to just lukewarm. Stir in 3/4 c. of flour, cover and let rise for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Add melted butter and beaten eggs, then add enough flour to form a slightly sticky dough ball. Knead (by hand or in a stand mixer) for about 3 minutes, then cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk. Roll out dough to about 1/8″ thickness, then cut into approximately 2-inch rounds. Place half of the rounds in a buttered baking pan. Brush with melted butter, then place remaining rounds on top. Cover and let the rounds rise again until just about doubled in height.  Brush the tops with butter, then bake in a 375° oven for about 10 minutes until golden brown.


  • 17-oz. jar chutney (we used a small jar of Major Grey’s mango chutney + an equivalent amount of homemade rosemary pear chutney)
  • 14-oz. bottle tomato catsup
  • 10-oz. bottle A-1 Steak Sauce
  • 1/2 to 2/3 of a 10-oz. bottle Worcestershire sauce
  • 12-oz. bottle American (e.g. Heinz brand) chili sauce
  • Tabasco, to taste

Blend chutney in a blender or food processor.  If too thick, add a bit of the catsup or A-1 sauce.  Combine with other ingredients.  Season to taste with Tabasco.

Makes 4 pints, which is obviously enough for several Derby parties.  Can be frozen.


    • The “Simple Dishes for the Sick” chapter is definitely worth the price of the book. Now, if only I knew where to purchase “peptonizing powder”…

  1. I adore these kinds of regional dishes and stories. Thanks for writing about them!

    I always think that food, like language is at risk of disappearing. There was this article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about this chef who is trying to re-establish real Russian food since most of what we think of as Russian is actually not (borscht is Ukrainian). In order to preserve recipes that were suppressed under Communist rule, he is speeding around the country and talking to as many grandmas as he can. Amazing, really.

    My parents have a second home in Louisville, so every year, my father contemplates renting out their front lawn for Derby parking. I noticed in the picture the bottle of Maker’s Mark. That one looks fancy. Is it a special one for the Derby?

    Butter buns look really good! I have never had one, but I think that needs to be rectified soon. Will there be a hot brown in the future?

    • I missed that New Yorker article. I’ll have to look through my stack, as it really sounds interesting.

      Wow—your parents have a home in Louisville? Small world! What brought them to that?

      You’re really observant re the Maker’s Mark. Actually, we get a gift bottle every year at Christmas from a local foxhunting club that we let ride on our land. It’s hilarious because they have our names put on the label, but they get them wrong in a different way every year! No hot browns in the immediate future, but you never know…

      • It was! I think the most interesting part was that I really wanted to be kind of carried away by the real Russian food. But the author of the article didn’t wax very poetic 😦

        Yeah, my parents have a house in Louisville. They got it a few years ago when my father got transferred to a the Louisville VA. I think they thought the transfer would be permanent, but it only ended up being a few years. They refuse to sell the house though . . .

        I am quite the Maker’s Mark pusher-woman! Yeah, it’s pretty sweet for bourbon, but it was my first bourbon — and you always remember your first! It does make the best juleps though. Well, that’s just what I think.

        The first thing I did when my parents bought a house was go to every single distillery around Bardstown. Like all . . . 6. The first two things I learned were that in the whole state of KY, there are only 12 distilleries. Also, only one of them can give out samples (Beam). Because the law doesn’t allow samples of liquor to be handed out. That was a pretty disappointing first tour!

        I still love it though. It’s totally cheesy, but the Maker’s Mark tour is my favorite one. Because they let you stick your whole hand in the mash!

  2. I adore your writing; I always so look forward to reading your posts. The history is fascinating, I love that the trial and error succeeded, and I agree that the borscht article sounds like a must-read! This recipe sounds like (what I think of as) quintessential Southern savoury baking. There is that particular, unmistakeable aroma that scalded milk gives to breads which always makes me want a big, hearty, Southern breakfast with plenty of strong coffee.

    • Steve

      Thanks so much; we do try to be entertaining. We may revisit Jenny Benedict again, if only to tweak her once more for inventing the most boring sandwich filling ever, Benedictine.

  3. Pingback: 141st Kentucky Derby Party | Purebreaded Quintuckian

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