Chess Pie

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.

A cheese pie with a homemade crust cut into four slices in an antique tin pie plate on top of a napkin

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.

 

Chess Pie

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 1 H, 25 M
  • Serves 8

Special Equipment: Pie weights or dry, uncooked rice or beans

5/5 - 1 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Southern Living Community Cookbook cookbook

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Ingredients

  • 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 (4 ounces), 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

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C).
  • 2. 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.
  • 3. 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.
  • 4. 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.
  • 5. Serve wedges of the pie at room temperature or after loosely covering and refrigerating the pie until chilled through.

Tuxedo Variation

  • Coconut Chess Pie
  • Tux variationPrepare 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.

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Comments

  1. Served the chess pie to my guests last night and everyone loved it. I have to say that I made it with a walnut/flour crust that I made which really was exceedingly good with it. I will try it again with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and see how that works. Any thoughts on how to prevent the browning or almost burning?

    1. Sagar, so glad your guests liked it. To prevent excessive browning lay a piece a foil on top of the pie–don’t crimp it. Also, have you checked your oven temperature with an oven thermometer? Are you using convection?

      1. Hi David,

        No doubt the chess pie is delicious. Ignore how the edges look – I had more filling and so overfilled the pie and because I put foil on the rim to prevent it burning, it stuck and turned out looking all yucky when I took the foil off. I cooked it in my toaster oven in which I bake most things. I hate turning the big oven on for one small thing especially in the Summer. Anyway, it is not the toaster oven’s fault because it is a great little toaster oven. I never even raised the temperature to 425. I started it at 350 as my crust was pre-cooked and frozen from another baking endeavour. The pie was ultra delicious though so I am going to make it again and I will see what is going on. As you can see, I made it in a pyrex pie dish and there was too much filling. I am going to make it in a glass lasagna dish next time as I need to make enough for two so there will only be a pie base but nothing lining the sides. I will keep you posted. I am also going to try it with less sugar. Do you think that will skew the chemistry? It was a tad too sweet.

        1. Sagar, are you sure the pie pan is 9-inch and not 8-inch? About the sugar, chess pie is supposed to be sweet. Reducing sugar can be ok, but there is a threshold below which you can’t go without altering the chemistry. So be careful!

          1. I will try 1.5 cups of sugar and see how that goes. It was such a delicious pie and actually tasted like it had almonds in it although nary an almond came within spitting distance of the pie:). I will keep you posted. Thank you for your support. BTW, if anyone wants to try my pie crust, it was made from:

            1/2 cup butter or vegan margarine
            1/3 cup sugar
            1 teaspoon vanilla
            3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
            1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

            1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, cream margarine/butter and sugar with a whisk until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and walnuts and mix. Add in flour 1/3 cup at a time and mix until dough sticks together and is slightly moist.

            2. Into a tart pan, press dough with your fingertips. Bake until edges are just barely starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Allow crust to cool completely before filling.

            This crust really complemented the pie fantastically!

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