Chess pie, a sweet confection made with sugar, butter, eggs, cornmeal, and vinegar (yes, vinegar), is a classic Southern dessert. It’a perfect for entertaining and holidays or sweltering afternoons on the porch.
Leave it to Southern home cooks to make something spectacular out of sow’s ears. Or rather pantry staples. This pie comes together from ingredients you already have on hand to create something you’d never believe came to be with so little effort if you hadn’t made it yourself.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Where Does Chess Pie Come From Anyway?
There are several theories around the origin of chess pie, which started appearing in American cookbooks in the mid-17th century. We sorta love that the most likely explanation behind the name of this beloved Southern dessert comes from a simple mispronunciation of “cheese pie,” or “it’s just pie.” Perhaps that’s what comes from speaking with your mouth full of this pie’s custard-y goodness.
- Pie weights or dry, uncooked rice or beans
- 1 (9-inch | 23 cm) unbaked pie crust chilled
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter melted
- 1/4 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar (yep, plain old distilled white vinegar)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs lightly beaten
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C).
- Press the pie crust dough into a 9-inch pie plate and line it with aluminum foil or parchment paper, making sure it extends over the edge of the crust. Fill with pie weights or dry, uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes or until the pie crust no longer looks wet. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake 2 to 3 more minutes or until the crust looks dry and golden. Let cool on a wire rack.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (176°C). In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt. Gradually whisk in the melted butter, milk, vinegar, and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs just until completely combined. Pour the chess pie filling into the cooled pie crust.
- Bake the chess pie for 50 to 55 minutes or until the filling is set. If the edge of the pie crust threatens to become too brown before the filling is cooked through, shield it with a long strip of aluminum foil that you form into a U-shape and slip over the edge of the crust to prevent excessive browning. Let the pie cool completely on a wire rack.
- Serve wedges of the pie at room temperature or after loosely covering and refrigerating the pie until chilled through.
Chess Pie VariationCoconut Chess Pie Prepare the chess pie filling as directed, stirring in 1 cup toasted, sweetened, flaked coconut before pouring the filling into the pie crust. Bake as directed.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This chess pie is DELICIOUS! Being a lifelong fat man of Northern descent, I had heard of chess pie, but I’d never experienced it. I can assure you that I will make this chess pie recipe every chance I get. This chess pie recipe is simply genius!
It could not be easier to make. The hardest part was waiting for the pie to cool. I am happy to report that it is quite tasty when warm but BRILLIANT cold from the old Crosley. I recommend a deep-dish crust as I used a regular pie crust, and there was about 3/4 cup filling left over, which I promptly put in a small ramekin and baked for about 25 minutes.
I regularly make chess pie for the holidays. My recipe uses margarine (gasp) because every time I tried butter, it just baked too brown. But this pie bakes up to a pretty golden color. I’m so excited to find a recipe made with butter that works.
Adding the wet ingredients to the mixture of sugar, salt, flour, and cornmeal made the sugar mixture look like drool. I mixed in the butter and eggs in the wrong order but it didn’t seem to matter. The pie baked the full 55 minutes. The top had a crust and was beautiful. I found room temperature to be best for consumption. I will try the coconut variation next time.
The flavor of this chess pie recipe was so delicious, I could not stay away! I’ve never heard of a chess pie recipe before, but this was so easy. I made the coconut chess pie variation. There was no cooking, stirring, or tempering of the filling ingredients. Just stir and pour. I cannot say enough about how easy this pie was to make!
I couldn’t find finely ground cornmeal at my store. I had medium ground and used it, and the grounds were unfortunately detectable in the finished pie. The pie was still so good—rich, sweet but not too sweet, smooth, and hearty. I took it out at 50 minutes because the top was golden, dry, and bubbly-looking. When I first saw it, I thought I had overcooked it. When it was completely cool, it was not cooked through enough, as some of the pie had gelled and some of the pie was like soup. I loved the flavor but needed to bake it a little longer for the proper consistency of the pie. I will make it again.
Somehow I missed out on chess pie as a Southern child, so getting to try it as a grown up was great. Most of my tasters liked this, although it was definitely too sweet for me.
And you’re not kidding when you say fine cornmeal. Mine was fine but still felt a little crunchy. Mixing the ingredients together went smoothly with no curdling. My problem came when I couldn’t figure out how to shield the edge of the pie crust. I finally gave up, and the pie didn’t seem to suffer for lack of a tinfoil rim. I served the pie at room temperature, and it was lovely. I think if I were to make it again, I would cut out 1/2 cup sugar and make extra sure that the cornmeal was basically a powder.
Originally published July 17, 2018