There are hundreds of different pies in the Southern arsenal (and almost as many cookbooks on the subject), so choosing a pie to make for National Pi Day proved to be quite difficult. When I finally narrowed it down to chocolate, my decision didn't exactly become easier. There's chocolate fudge pie, chocolate cream pie, chocolate pudding pie, chocolate chip pecan pie... Well, you get the drift.
Once I whittled down the option to chocolate chess, hundreds of variations seemed to appear before me. But when it came down to it, the only main difference between all those recipes seemed to be the addition of evaporated milk. Of course I needed to know which was the best, so I decided to try both. When in doubt, make two pies!
Before baking, I thought I preferred the filling with evaporated milk. It was silky (almost like Hershey's syrup), smooth, and quite addicting. The filling sans milk was in fact a little grainy. Just nothing special. And trust me, I was a very inquisitive taster. It took multiple spoon licks to truly form a solid opinion.
But what happened in those 45 minutes in the oven was definitely a game changer. The evaporated milk filling had a very unattractive speckled top, not sexy at all. The taste was good but lacking any complexity. The sans milk pie, on the other hand, was a true beauty. At first it was all puffed up and airy, but as it cooled and sank down a bit, it developed a very attractive crackle. And the taste? A rich, fudgy slice of heaven.
In the end, the chocolate chess pie is quintessentially Southern. It requires only the most basic ingredients and just a few minutes of your time. It's soul-satisfying and the perfect way to end any meal. So what are you waiting for? Go make it today!
Chocolate Chess Pie
Adapted from Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott
For the crust
1 sleeve chocolate graham crackers
1 stick butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
For the filling
1 stick butter
1 (1 ounce) square unsweetened chocolate (or 3 tablespoons cocoa powder)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°.
To make the crust, crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs. (I like to put them in a large ziploc and smash them with a rolling pin. It's very satisfying.) Add sugar and melted butter and mix until well combined. Push into a 9 inch pie pan to form a thin crust on the bottom and sides. (I also like to save a few bites for myself.) Bake for 8 minutes, remove from oven, and chill until firm and crunchy, about an hour.
Lower oven temperature to 325°.
To make the filling, heat the butter and chocolate in a saucepan over medium until melted and smooth. Remove from the burner and add the sugar, mixing until well combined. Stir in eggs, vanilla, and salt. Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for around 45 minutes, until top is puffed and the center is just set. To be honest, I like mine a little on the gooey side so I start checking around 40 minutes just to be safe (however, my mom likes her chess pie totally set and would prefer around 50 minutes. It's your call here.). I also covered the edges of the crust with foil about half way through to keep it from burning.
Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 - 30 minutes. It is delicious warm or at room temperature. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)