Chess PieA chess pie is an old Southern pie type–like cream pies–that has been around for nearly a century. They are baked as smooth custard pies or loaded with almost anything. We looked at dozens of recipes and found chess pies with nuts, raisins, pineapple, peaches, blueberries, and chocolate. We’ll give you a basic recipe and you can experiment forever.

Chess pies are usually spiked with something tart—vinegar, lemons, or bourbon. Most have dairy—buttermilk, cream, or milk—though some are labeled “transparent” with little dairy. Some have cornmeal, corn flour, or cornstarch.

We started experimenting with composites of what we found trying to stick with principles, not recipes. We ended up with the following recipe that we found very good. Instead of having a touch of tartness from lemon or vinegar, this is butterscotch flavored with brown sugar and butter. (We didn’t care for the traditional lemon or vinegar with this pie.)

Southern Chess Pie Recipe


1 nine-inch pie shell

4 large eggs, whisked
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons fine ground cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Bake the pie shell at 450 degrees for about ten minutes or until it just starts to turn brown on the edges. It will help the pie shell keep its shape during baking if you line the shell with aluminum foil and then place beans, rice, or pie shell weights in the shell to hold the crust down. If you do so, the weights will act as heat sinks and you will need to bake the shell longer.
2. Whip the eggs and brown sugar together until the sugar dissolved. Add the vanilla extract.
3. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the cream, 1/4-cup brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and just starts to bubble. Dribble the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture while stirring constantly. Whisk the mixture until it is smooth. Pour the filling into the pie shell.
4. Bake the pie for 40 to 45 minutes at 325 degrees or until it tests done when the blade of a knife is inserted in the filling one inch from the center.

Let cool on a wire rack and then refrigerate.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Baker’s notes:

1. This pie was made with brown sugar. It can also be made with honey crystals or molasses crystals for some interesting renditions. Both can be purchased at a discount in The Student Commissary.
2. Feel at liberty to experiment. Many chess pies are light in color while this one is caramel-colored from the brown sugar and egg yolks. For a lighter-colored pie, substitute granulated sugar for the brown sugar and four egg whites plus two large eggs for the eggs. The pie will then be more vanilla flavored. The pie made with honey crystals will be lighter colored also and honey and vanilla is a wonderful combination. Molasses crystals will make a more traditional pie.
3. Any fine-ground cornmeal will work or even corn flour. We used corn masa mix and it worked perfectly.

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