The Super Easy Down-Home Dessert You’ve Never Heard of

10 ingredients or less

Photo by Andre Baranowski

Knock the socks off your friends and family with this timeless classic of Southern baking, using just 10 ingredients or less.

Unless you have roots below the Mason-Dixon, chess pie is likely an unknown entity. The sweet custard pie is a Southern classic that has been around since Martha Washington. Lemon and chocolate are common variants. Chess pies are usually spiked with something tart (e.g., vinegar, lemons, bourbon) to cut the sweetness. But don’t worry: There’s plenty of sweet to go around with this version of the classic gooey pie, with a crusty-cornmeal top and buttery graham cracker crust. Makes 1 nine-inch pie.


1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs (Honey Maid preferred)
2 tsp sugar
5 Tbsp butter, melted

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Filling (all filling ingredients should be room temperature):

¼ cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1½ tsp cornmeal
1½ Tbsp evaporated milk
1½ tsp distilled white vinegar

Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy cream
¾ tsp vanilla
/3 tsp confectioners’ sugar

For the Crust:

Combine crumbs and sugar in a bowl. Add butter and mix, first with fork and then with hands.

Pour into a 9-inch aluminum pie tin and press to form shell (nudge crumbs up sides of pan). Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove from refrigerator
and bake on a baking sheet about 3 minutes.

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For the Filling: 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix butter, sugar, vanilla in a large bowl. Mix in eggs, then stir in the cornmeal, evaporated milk, and vinegar until smooth.

Fill crust (filling should reach ¾ of the way up the crust).

Bake for 8 minutes on rack
in top third of oven, then reduce heat to 300°F and bake for 38 minutes (add 4-5 min baking time if using glass pie plate). Turn tray halfway through baking. Let cool before slicing.

For the Whipped Cream:

Place electric mixer bowl in freezer for 10 minutes.

Place heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar into bowl and whip on medium to high speed for 4 to 5 minutes or until soft peaks have formed.

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Mound whipped cream on top of pie, or spoon on individual pie servings.

History: Why “Chess”? 

The origin of the name is not certain, but my favorite explanation is about the plantation cook who was asked what sort of pie she was baking that smelled so delicious. “Is it blueberry or strawberry pie?” the curious (and likely hungry) onlooker asked. “No, jes’ pie” was the answer in her Southern drawl.

Related: Dig Into the Top Pizza in Westchester by Town

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