Chess Pie: a decadent, creamy Southern dessert to make for Thanksgiving

Total time: 85 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 8 people
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By Cookist

Treat your loved ones this holiday season by baking a homemade chess pie. A traditional dessert from the American South with English roots, the classic chess pie features layers of tender pie crust, thick, sweet custard, and a crisp browned top. The name is thought to come either from the English town of Chester or "cheese pie" – historic cookbooks tended to lump cheesecakes and custard pies together.

It's a super easy dessert to make, and this version of the recipe is the undisputed best. What makes this chess pie recipe the best of all time? Browned butter! The rich, nutty flavor adds so much flavor and depth to this decadent treat. Serve your chess pie lightly warmed with a scoop of ice cream for the perfect way to end your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

Where did Chess Pie originate?

The Chess Pie can be traced back all the way to the 1700’s from a cookbook that describes the pie as a cheesecake without cheese. The custard-like cake has long been such a base for pies made with eggs, sugar, butter, and often milk or cream. It became a longtime Southern classic alongside several pies alike.

Why is a Chess Pie called a Chess Pie?

There’s a few theories for the origin of the name Chess Pie.The general story says that the name refers to an old pie safe or chest, where you stored pies that didn’t need refrigeration. As a Southern classic and pronounced with a drawl, “Chest” became “Chess.” These pies contain a good amount of sugar so they could be stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated.


Essential Tips for Making the Perfect Chess Pie

Either store-bought or homemade pie crust works great for chess pie.

Use room-temperature ingredients for your pie to ensure your filling comes together easily.

Want to jazz up your chess pie? Try one of these easy chess pie variations. To make gluten-free chess pie, use a gluten-free pie crust and swap the all-purpose flour for your preferred gluten-free flour. Substitute lemon juice for the vinegar to make lemon chess pie. To make honey chess pie, use 1 cup of honey in place of sugar.

How to Store Homemade Chess Pie

Wrap the pie well and put it in the fridge. Enjoy within 5 to 7 days. Chess pie freezes well, too – wrap it and pop it in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the fridge before serving.

Pie crust
unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup
1 1/4 cup
2 tbsp
All-purpose flour
1 tbsp
1/4 tsp
Whole Milk
1/3 cup
White vinegar
1 tbsp
pure vanilla extract
1 tsp
Large eggs

How to Make Chess Pie

Roll the pie crust to about 12 inches on a clean work surface. Place the pie crust in the pie pan, then place in the fridge for at least one hour.

Place the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently, and brown the butter until it takes on a rich brown color and nutty aroma. Transfer to a bowl and cool for one hour. Preheat your oven to 350F. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Set aside.

In a second bowl, combine the sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt.

Whisk the browned butter into the flour mixture until smooth.

Pour in the milk.

Add in the vinegar.

Stir in the vanilla.

Beat in the eggs.

Mix well. Though Chess Pie looks runny when first mixing and baking, don’t worry as it will set up into a custard after cooling and before cutting.

Pour the filling into the pie crust.

Spread the filling evenly. Set the pie pan on a baking sheet, then place in the oven. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes.

Remove the chess pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.

Slice and serve. Enjoy!


A standard 9-inch pie pan is ideal for making chess pie.

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