How To Make Better-than-Grandma's Buttermilk Chess Pie

How To Make Better-than-Grandma's Buttermilk Chess Pie

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Meghan Splawn
Nov 20, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Whether you knew it or not, you've likely already eaten some version of chess pie. This category of pie is responsible for favorites like pecan pie, Derby pie, and even Christina Tosi's infamous Crack pie. At their most basic, chess pies are just sugar, eggs, and butter baked into a soft, custard-like consistency.

Buttermilk chess pie is a classic American pie, with its chess pie roots in England and its buttermilk twang bred in the South. Chess pies aren't as popular as they once were — your Grandmother probably knows them by heart, but your own parents less so — but their ease and scrappiness, partnered with their revelatory deliciousness means they're due for a modern comeback. Here's how to make a classic buttermilk chess pie that is better than anything Grandma might have baked.

Chess Pie: Watch the Video

What Is Chess Pie?

Classic chess pie (sometimes called sugar pie), and its close cousin buttermilk chess pie are most often thought of as Southern pies, although their origins are deeply rooted in England. Chess pie is made from a simple mixture of sugar, eggs, and butter; either flour, cornstarch, or cornmeal; and often a thimbleful of vinegar. The sugar and starch work together to give the finished pie a crispy, crackly crust on top with a creamy, custard-like filling below.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

When Southerner's got their hands on the chess pie concept, they swapped the butter and vinegar for buttermilk, giving the once super-sweet chess pie a tangy punch.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

The Beginner's Guide to Buttermilk Chess Pie

Here's what to expect and why chess pie is the ultimate beginner's pie.

  • Chill the pie dough in the pie plate. Go ahead and use the store-bought pie crust or use your favorite pie crust recipe. The important thing here is to line the pie plate with the dough, flute or crimp the edges, and then chill the dough. You want the pie crust and filling close to the same temperature so they bake together in the oven. The cold crust adds some insulation to the pie filling, helping it bake low and slow.
  • Whisk up the filling in two parts. Chess pies are pretty easy, but it's worth whisking the eggs, cornstarch, and flour together first before adding the buttermilk and butter. Adding the acidic ingredient or dairy separately (in this case, it's buttermilk) will make for a smoother filling.
  • Sprinkle a little sugar on top. Both the cornmeal inside the filling and a sprinkling of brown sugar on top of the pie will give it a crisp (and gorgeous!) crust on top.
  • Pour the filling into the crust once it's already in the oven. Placing the pie crust on the oven rack and then adding the filling means you don't have to worry about spilling as you carry the pie to the oven. You'll also want to bake the pie on a baking sheet so you don't risk damaging the crust when you pull it out.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Baking and Serving Buttermilk Pie

This pie bakes at a relatively low oven temperature for about an hour. The oven slowly brings the whole pie to temperature, which bakes the filling to a just-set custard consistency. A probe thermometer is great for testing doneness because you can simply use it like a cake tester (does it some out clean? Congrats! Your pie is done!) or check that it has reached an internal temperature of 200°F.

Cool this pie completely — three to four hours at room temperature — before slicing, or you'll have a runny filling instead of a deliciously creamy, tangy, and sweet slice of buttermilk chess pie.

How To Make Better-than-Grandma's Buttermilk Chess Pie

Serves 8

Prep time: 14 minutes ; cooking time: 1 hour 5 minutes

What You Need

Ingredients

  • 1

    (9-inch) pie crust

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 3 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons

    finely ground cornmeal

  • 1 1/2 cups

    buttermilk

  • 4 tablespoons

    unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 1 tablespoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    salt

  • 2 tablespoons

    packed light brown sugar

  • Equipment
  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • 9-inch pie plate

  • Large mixing bowl

  • Whisk

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven and prepare the pie crust. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a regular 9-inch pie pan (not deep dish) with the pie crust. Be sure to press the dough into the sides, without any cracks or holes in the pie crust. Roll the edge of the crust down on itself about 1/4 inch and use your fingertips to flute the edge. Refrigerate the pie plate while preparing the filling.

  2. Make the filling. Place the eggs, sugar, flour, and cornmeal in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the buttermilk, butter, vanilla, and salt and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute.

  3. Fill the pie crust. Place the prepared pie crust on a baking sheet. Pull out the oven rack halfway and place the baking sheet on it. Pour the filling into the crust. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the top — it's OK if it appears to sink into the filling slightly. Slide the oven rack back into place.

  4. Bake the pie until set, about 60 minutes. Bake, rotating halfway through, until the center of the pie is barely set in the center, reaches 200°F, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes total.

  5. Cool the pie completely before slicing. Let the pie cool completely on a wire rack before serving, 3 to 4 hours.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store leftovers, loosely wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

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