Schatzi: What a fantastic fiancee I am. Last year, when Eli told me of his family’s tradition that a birthday boy (or girl) gets to pick the cake they desire, I happily made him the orange pound cake he so fancied. And he loved it. And when my birthday rolled around, and I requested a haupia cake, I patiently waited. And I’m still waiting. But since it’s Eli’s birthday today, and since I have vowed to not bake him a birthday cake till I get my haupia cake, I baked him a Chess Pie. It also came in handy,to use up the yolks from my frittata a few days previous. And yes, I cheated and used a store-bought crust.
According to the always excellent Food Timeline, Chess Pie derives from old British and early colonial pastries and puddings, which featured egg yolks, butter, milk, sugar, and sometimes lemon juice. Such desserts, including lemon curd, were classified as cheese cakes or pies, due to their consistency, which resembled that of cheese. 17th century recipes for “cheese cakes without cheese curds” bear a striking resemblance to 19th century chess pie recipes, and from those cheese/chess pies came the Southern Chess Pie. There are myriad variations on the chess pie, involving white or brown sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, and raisins or pecans, and almost as many names as variations; the white sugar chess pie is sometimes called a sugar pie (honey bunch!). I found this recipe on Saveur while looking for rice pudding recipes.
I will add that Eli was delighted by his birthday pie, and said it was just perfect, exactly was a chess pie should be like. So I guess it qualifies as a Tennessee Chess Pie, too!
- 1 9-inch pie pastry
- 2⁄3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2⁄3 cup light brown sugar
- 2⁄3 cup buttermilk
- 1⁄2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 egg yolks plus 1 egg
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Fill a 4-quart saucepan with water to a depth of 1 inch, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
2. In a bowl that will fit over the saucepan, whisk together all ingredients save the butter. Place bowl over saucepan, and add butter. While whisking frequently, cook mixture until smooth and warm, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; and cool 5 minutes.
3. Pour mixture into chilled pie shell, and bake until center is just set, 45–50 minutes. Cool completely on rack before serving, about 2 hours.