Chess pie is a classic southern pie that is easy to make and very easy to eat.
My version is sweetened with both white and brown sugar and is flavored with vanilla. It gets a touch of tang from buttermilk and vinegar.
Similar to vinegar pie, chess pie is set not only with eggs but also with fine cornmeal. It slices beautifully, and the mouthfeel is smooth and creamy with just a hint of texture from the cornmeal.
You may also be interested in my chocolate chess pie recipe. My recipe doesn’t milk or evaporated milk so the chocolate flavor really shines.
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Watch my best chess pie web story here.
Why You Need to Make This Chess Pie Recipe
Before developing this particular recipe, I took a look at 6-7 other highly-rated chess pie recipes.
I took what I considered to be the best elements of each and combined them into an ingredient list that makes sense to me as a “desperation pie,” basing my assumptions on what folks a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago would have had on hand.
The result is a creamy pie with a bit of “toothsomeness” from fine cornmeal. It has a big punch of vanilla flavor that is brightened by the tang from the buttermilk and apple cider vinegar.
I have to say, having had to test recipes as much as 9 times to hit on the magic formula, it felt great to hit a homerun my first time at bat.
This pie is excellent. A little less sweet than most with a bit more complexity from molasses in brown sugar and plenty of salt to bring out all the nuances.
What Is the Texture of Chess Pie
It’s kind of like the texture of a pumpkin pie without the pumpkin.
It is smooth and a little creamy, but it slices cleanly. It has a bit of texture from the cornmeal, but it is by no means grainy. Think cream of wheat or semolina.
Or if you’ve ever had Indian pudding, it is similar in texture to that.
I took this photo so you can see, up close, the texture of the baked filling:
The Difference Between Chess Pie and Vinegar Pie
The main differences between the two pies are that, while both contain vinegar, chess pie contains a bit of dairy milk (buttermilk in this case) and a little fine cornmeal for texture.
The pies are very similar in flavor, although I find chess pie to be a bit more nuanced than vinegar pie.
Vinegar pie relies entirely upon the thickening power of eggs while chess pie relies on both eggs and cornmeal. I have also seen recipes that call for flour or a mixture of flour and cornmeal.
Both are “desperation pies,” or pies you whip up from pantry staples when there’s no fresh fruit around, and you should absolutely say yes if someone offers you a slice of either one.
How To Make This Pie
As with all desperation pies, chess pie is super easy to whip up.
Here’s what you’ll need and what to do.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- pie crust: I usually use pate brisee. Feel free to make your favorite crust or start with a refrigerated or frozen crust
- sugar: For sweetness and texture. You can use all white sugar or all brown sugar. I settled on a mixture, obviously
- brown sugar: For sweetness, a bit of complexity from the molasses, and texture
- salt: I call for 1 full teaspoon of kosher salt. I use Morton’s. If you use Diamond kosher, you may need a bit more. If using fine sea salt or table salt, start with about 1/2 teaspoon and go from there. Don’t leave it out, though. The salt helps to cut the sweetness and bring some dimension to what could otherwise be a fairly bland pie. We don’t want that!
- fine cornmeal: Don’t accidentally use self-rising cornmeal. I doubt anything too bad would happen, but we don’t really need the leavening. If all you have is medium cornmeal, soak it in the buttermilk for a good hour or so before combining with the rest of the ingredients. This will give it a chance to soften in liquid before baking
- butter: melted butter. I generlly use unsalted. The butter carries flavor, assists in browning, adds richness and body
- buttermilk: I use full-fat buttermilk. You may also use whole milk if you prefer. But adding vinegar to whole milk gives you curdled milk or a buttermilk substitute, so I just went straight to buttermilk. You could also use some creme fraiche if you have some or plain yogurt if that’s what you have on hand
- vinegar: Any vinegar that doesn’t have a pronounced flavor or color will work here. If you have plain white vinegar, that will work. Other options are white balsamic (for a much less tangy, sweeter flavor), plain rice vinegar, or white wine vinegar. The vinegar is there for a bit of tang. If you are averse to the idea of vinegar in pie (Ruth Ann, I’m talking to you), substitute lemon juice and add the zest of 1-2 lemons and just make lemon chess pie.
- vanilla: For flavor. I call for a full tablespoon to give a pronounced, well-rounded vanilla flavor.
- eggs: The recipe calls for 4. Almost every recipe I looked at called for 4. I believe you could easily get away with using three, although the set may be a bit softer.
- nutmeg (not pictured): optional for grating on top of your pie before baking.
This is easy. Promise.
Once you blind bake your crust, gather all your ingredients.
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl.
Melt the butter.
Put the buttermilk, vanilla, and vinegar into a little measuring cup or small bowl.
Beat the eggs.
Now to bring it all together:
- Mix melted butter into the sugar mixture.
- Whisk in the buttermilk mixture.
- Whisk the eggs in completely.
- Pour into your crust, dust with a little freshly grated nutmeg (optional but lovely), and bake.
It will take between 45-50 minutes to bake.
Tent with foil if it’s browning too quickly.
Equipment You May Need
You really don’t need a lot to make a chess pie.
A pie pan, a half-sheet pan to bake it on, and a cooling rack.
And to mix everything together for the filling, all you need is a sturdy whisk.
Rest assured, there’s not too much standing between you and making this pie!
Classic variations of chess pie include lemon, where you just substitute lemon juice for vinegar and add some lemon zest, and chocolate.
There are a few schools of thought on making a chocolate chess pie. My thoughts are that it should be as chocolatey as possible, so the only dairy in mine is butter.
Some recipes call for evaporated milk, but I don’t want a milk chocolate pie, thanks.
Tips for Success
Don’t have your butter too hot or you’ll cook the eggs. That’s one reason I recommend mixing the hot butter into the sugar first, followed by the buttermilk mixture. That should cool it off enough that there will be no issue when you whisk in the eggs at the end.
Chess Pie Q & A
As written, the filling is gluten-free. Just make sure none of the ingredients are made on shared equipment. And of course, you’ll want to use a gluten-free pie crust.
Use the same amount of all-purpose flour. It won’t be gluten-free anymore, so if that’s a concern, please stick to the cornmeal.
Flavor and texture will be best if you finish your pie within 3 days. Keep it tightly covered in the fridge. For best flavor and texture for serving, warm the pie slightly, or at least let it come to room temperature for serving.
I served our chess pie with stabilized whipped cream sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with baking spice. Highly recommend.
If you like a pie with a bit of texture, add a spoonful of granola or some pre-baked crumbled streusel as well.
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If you could leave a star rating, that would be very helpful. Thank you for being here!
Chess Pie Recipe
- 1 single-crust pie crust
- 4 large eggs
- 112 grams butter 4 oz or 1 stick
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon vinegar
- 85 grams buttermilk 3 oz or a little over 1/3 cup
- 198 grams granulated sugar 7 oz or about 1 cup
- 85 grams dark brown sugar 3 oz or about 1/3 cup packed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt I use Morton’s
- 34 grams fine cornmeal 1.2 oz or 3 Tablespoons
- several gratings fresh nutmeg for the top of the pie
- Heat oven to 350F and set your rack in the center of the oven.
- Melt butter, either in the microwave or over medium-low heat on the stove. Set aside.
- Whisk the eggs together. Set aside.
- Combine the vanilla, vinegar, and buttermilk in a measuring cup.
- In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, brown sugar, salt, and cornmeal.
- Whisk in the melted butter until well combined.
- Whisk in the buttermilk mixture followed by the egg mixture.
- Pour into a par-baked pie shell (I use pate brisee)
- Grate some fresh nutmeg over the top of the pie.
- Bake until only the center jiggles somewhat when you shake the pie, about 45-50 minutes.
- Tent with foil for the last few minutes if the crust is browning too much.
- Remove pie from oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack until barely warm.
- Serve warm, and store leftover pie in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Did You Make Any Changes?
VariationsClassic variations of chess pie include lemon, where you just substitute lemon juice for vinegar and add some lemon zest, and chocolate. There are a few schools of thought on making a chocolate chess pie. My thoughts are that it should be as chocolatey as possible, so the only dairy in mine is butter. Some recipes call for evaporated milk, but I don't want a milk chocolate pie, thanks.
CHESS PIE Q & A
Thanks for spending some time with me today.
I know you will love this chess pie recipe. I hope you let me know what you think!
Take care, and have a lovely day.
What are my qualifications to teach you baking and pastry? As a former working pastry chef and special educator, I marry my passions for both teaching and for baking into explaining techniques, methods, and developing the best possible recipes. For more info, you can read more about me.
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