Why It Works
- It's an easy pie to put together with just a few staple ingredients.
- A little salt and a tablespoon of white vinegar balance out the sweetness.
- A small amount of flour and cornmeal produces a thin, crackly, caramelized crust on the surface.
If you've got a super, ooey, gooey, sticky sweet tooth, then this classic pie from the South is for you. I learned about it while working with a sous chef from Virginia who had an insatiable taste for sweets, and who begged me to make it for the family meal whenever I had a few spare minutes. Because it's just about the easiest pie in the world to throw together, I was always happy to indulge her with a sweet taste from home.
The origin of the name "Chess Pie" is unclear; some attribute it to its ancestor, the cheese tart, while others believe it was named for Chester County, or for the pie "chest" in which it was kept prior to serving. It is mysterious origin stories that make these old-timey recipes so appealing, but, especially in the case of Chess Pie, it's also the sugar that keeps folks coming back for more.
Why so sweet? To achieve the best consistency in the filling—one that's loose and creamy, firm enough to slice, but quivery at the same time—you need the perfect ratio of sugar to eggs, which is to say, a high ratio. Those are the two main ingredients, but they are supported just slightly by a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla, a hint of milk and vinegar (which balances the sweetness a bit), and a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal and flour. Those last two are there to form just a wisp of a thin, crackly, caramelized crust over the top, which is my favorite part.
This is a great staple pie, easy to make with a few basic ingredients that you probably already have at home.
The recipe is adapted from the original featured in Southern Living magazine.
One half recipe easy pie dough, shaped and chilled in a pie plate
4 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 ounces (about 5 tablespoons) whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
14 ounces (about 2 cups) granulated sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) melted butter, cooled
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line chilled pie shell with foil or parchment and fill it with pie weights (I like to use dried beans for this purpose). Bake on bottom rack of oven for 5 minutes, then lower temperature to 325°F (160°C) and bake for an additional 3 minutes. Remove weights and liner and bake pie shell until it is light golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Remove crust from oven and allow it to cool completely.
In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and vanilla together for 30 seconds, until they are well combined. Stream sugar into bowl, whisking as you go. Add butter, salt, cornmeal, flour, and vinegar, and whisk until the filling is smooth and there are no visible lumps. Pour filling into cooled shell and place on lower rack of oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until filling has set up but still quivers a bit and is slightly puffed at the edges. Allow pie to cool completely. Either serve warm or cover and refrigerate for a chilled filling.
9-inch pie plate
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 22g||28%|
|Saturated Fat 10g||51%|
|Total Carbohydrate 62g||23%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 41g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|