Chess Pie is a Southern staple with historical roots in England. Though its basic ingredients – butter, sugar, eggs and flour – can be found in any Southern pantry, the variations on Chess Pie can seem as far-fetched as the folklore surrounding its etymology.
Many folks believe that its name originated from the closely related English lemon curd pie, which often was called cheese pie; “Chess Pie” allegedly derived from Southerners’ tendency to drawl our words. Another version tells of a plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great: “Jes’ pie” (just pie) was her answer. Yet another myth states that the pie’s high sugar content allowed it to keep well in a pie chest at room temperature, so “Chest Pie” turned into “Chess Pie.”
Though basic Chess Pie is remarkably easy to prepare by mixing simple ingredients and baking for 30 minutes, you can get fancy by adding innovative flavorings. Popular additions include zesty lemon juice, earthy nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon, tropical flaked coconut, and toasted, chopped pecans. Some believe a splash of buttermilk makes Chess Pie better, while others swear by a tablespoon of vinegar. If you’d like to double the decadence, just stir in some cocoa powder!
Whether you call it cheese pie, chest pie or “jes’ pie,” there are no boundaries to this traditional Southern confection. - Chef Russell Shinn, Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen (Cary)
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen Chocolate Chess Pie
(makes 1 pie)
1⁄4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1⁄2 tablespoons white cornmeal
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 pound melted butter
1 unbaked pie crust
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then assemble pie as described below.
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen Housemade Pie Crust (makes 3 pie shells)
4 1⁄2 cups all purpose flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
1 1⁄2 cups unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold water
Disclaimer: All our recipes were originally designed for much larger batch sizes. This recipe has been reduced – but not tested at this scale. Please adjust as to your taste and portion size.