Sunday, November 24, 2013

Buttermilk Chess Pie

       When I was a kid, My Grandfather used to come down to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving with us. During one of his visits, my dad, sister, grandfather and I were driving in the car, and we got into a discussion of everyone's favorite types of pie. (For the record, mine was apple with crumble topping at the time.) Dad and Hattie listed theirs and finally Grandfather named "Chess Pie." Much to Grandfather's disappointment, none of us had even heard of Chess Pie. We inquired as to what it was and Grandfather explained "It is like pecan pie, without the pecans." To this, my Dad responded, "So you mean it is just the goop?" At this moment, my Grandfather become endearingly indignant, and in a deep tone spoke the voice of a wise pie sage, "It is so much more than just goop, Scottie." The three of us of course burst out in laughter.
       Although it was the pie my Grandfather named as such an ultimately tasty treat many years ago, I only just now bought my large jug of buttermilk and went home ready to experience this pie. From when I finally looked up what was in it-cornmeal, eggs, lots of delicious buttermilk, and some bright citrus- I knew Grandfather had been right to take such a tone with us. It is so much more that just goop.
       It is a lusciously gentle lemon custard, just slightly and pleasantly textured by a small amount of cornmeal. The filling is reminiscent of a southern grain style pudding which is then baked inside a perfectly, flakey, buttery crust. The buttermilk gives the classic smooth, buttery, goodness so characteristic of its presence in baking. However, the biggest and most welcomed surprise was the top of the custard. Instead of being soft and pudding like, the sugar and cornmeal form an extremely thin sugar top crust. Therefore, when you first tap your fork down over the top to sink in, there is the smallest and most satisfying crunch. This is the Southern pie the majority of America still needs to find out about, because it is just gosh darn delicious. Thank you Grandfather for being the sage of pie eating, even when your younger generations were clueless!
Very slightly adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day


1 9-10" unbaked pie crust (I used Back in the Day's but pick your favorite)
4 TBSP (1/2 Stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 C sugar
4 eggs
1 TBSP all purpose flour
2 TBSP yellow cornmeal
1 pinch of fine sea salt
3/4 C buttermilk (low-fat)
1 TBSP lemon juice
Zest of 1/2 of an orange and 1/2 a lemon

Oven Temp: Start 350 (first 10 minutes), down to 325 (last 45-55 minutes)

1. Roll out your pie dough to a 12" round and place it into a greased 9" baking dish. Cut off the excess piecrust and poke the crust with a fork. Allow the piecrust a final rest of an hour in the fridge.
2. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter with a hand mixer (or paddle attachment in your stand mixer) until it is light and fluffy.
4. Add in the eggs in, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.
5. Add the flour, cornmeal, and salt and beat on low until just incorporated.
6. Add the lemon juice, buttermilk, and zest and mix to combine.
7. Remove the crust from the fridge, pour in the mixture and bake at 350 F for the first 10 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 325 and continue to cook for 45-50 minutes, until the filling is set.
8. Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cook for at least 2 hours at room temperature before cutting.


  1. This looks especially tasty and I can't wait to try it out myself. I've had store bought chess pie while living in Nashville, but I don't think it was nearly the same as this. Thanks for sharing the story and the recipe.

    1. Thanks so much! It's always worth it to eat more pie ;) I hope you enjoy it tons and have the happiest of Thanksgivings!