I tasted my first Chess pie in St. Louis during a production of Das Rheingold. I was staying with this 96 year old retired professor of literature, and she made this pie for me. I had never heard of it, and when she told me it had cornmeal and vinegar in it, I must admit I was highly skeptical, to say the least. When the first bite touched my lips, I died. I was floating, far above the city of St. Louis, on an entirely different plane of existence. I hadn’t realized something could ever be so perfect. She had to hide the pie to stop me from consuming it whole. I repaid her by teaching her how to watch DVDs on her computer, which she found upsetting and difficult. I think we know who got the better end of the deal.
Chess pie is a southern pudding pie that is seldom seen north of Kentucky. Once I started baking, I knew I had to learn how to make it, and all its assorted flavors. I used my usual Chess pie recipe, which I adapted from Southern Living Magazine, and made a Lemon version here for the first time. The recipe bears no resemblance to the original SLM one, because as I have learned more about the chemistry of baking, I tend to use certain techniques I have learned by trial and error, and incorporate those into my recipes (for instance, I adore adding extra yolks to stuff). The result is phenomenal- it has the depth and richness of the Classic Chess pie, balanced delicately by the tart brightness of the lemon. I chose not to use any vinegar in this recipe, because I figured the lemon would act as the acid.
If you were born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, you must bake this pie today!
GOOEY LEMON CHESS PIE
For the filling:
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbs cornmeal
- 1/2 tsp salt
- zest of 1-2 lemons
- 2 tbs flour
- 4 whole eggs, and four egg yolks, beaten (you can make an egg white frittata in the morning!)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
- Optional: whipped cream
- Suggested Music: Wagner’s Das Rheingold “Prelude”
For the crust:
Heat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC). If you’ve pre-baked your pie crust, you will want to line the edges with strips of foil, so it doesn’t burn. In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients, and add your eggs, buttermilk, lemon juice and zest, and whisk until smooth and a bit frothy. Add your butter and mix until smooth again. Pour into your cooled pie crust, and bake for 65 minutes. Cool to room temperature (it is best to let it sit overnight before eating it, although I have never actually managed to do this) and serve with whipped cream on top. I like to keep my Chess pies on the counter, I wouldn’t refrigerate it.
Now that I have written this, I am going to have to physically restrain myself from eating another piece. The torture is unimaginable, but I have to save some for guests tomorrow. Happy baking, darlings, ta for now!