This chocolate chess pie recipe tastes like a rich, super gooey, fudgy brownie in a crust. It’s an easy to make, old-fashioned pie made for true chocolate lovers. I like to think of it as a pie that Grandmama would’ve made (if my Grandmama was a baker). And I certainly would’ve appreciated eating!

There are plenty of versions of chess pie. This one happens to contain cornmeal, but others are made with a little flour. Some chess pie recipes call for dairy like buttermilk or evaporated milk. To be clear, this is a chess pie without evaporated milk. The only dairy in my version is a little bit of butter, and that’s part of what makes it so rich and fudgy!

Click to find more old fashioned pie recipes. For ease of browsing, here are all of my pie and tart recipes in one place. Thanks for stopping by!

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A slice of chocolate pie on a white plate with the rest of the pie in the background and a mug of cold milk.
This old-fashioned chocolate chess pie recipe tastes a bit like a super fudgy brownie baked in a crust. You need to make it!

Watch my chocolate chess pie web story here.

Reader Rave

This recipe is perfection! I baked this pie for the first time on Christmas Day, following the recipe exactly as written. Wow! It was loved by everyone who tasted it. The pie was still “wobbly” in the center at the end of cooking time, but I removed it from the oven anyway…This is a must-try recipe and destined to become a family favorite.

Pinner Phoebe

What Is a Chess Pie?

Chess pie recipes vary from region to region, so it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about them.

  • Some contain milk or evaporated milk.
  • Others use flour and eggs for thickening.
  • Some recipes use a mixture of flour and cornmeal, and while some recipes call for chocolate, most I’ve seen call for cocoa powder.

I think the main things to remember are that:

  • chess pie needs eggs because it is a simple custard and
  • keep it simple

Where Did the Name Come From?

Chess Pie is as southern as the day is long. A simple plain custard thickened with egg and some flour or cornmeal, flavored with vanilla, lemon or chocolate.

It’s Just Pie. Or as we say in the South, “Jes’ Paah” which eventually became “chess pie.”

“Whatcha makin’?”

“It ain’t nuthin’. Jes’ paah.”

A whole chocolate chess pie in a metal pie pan cooling on a wire rack.

Ingredients

As I’ve said, this is “just pie,” so I promise you don’t need any fancy ingredients.

Aside from the pie crust (I make pate brisee), run go check and see if you have the following:

Collage of ingredients in chocolate chess pie.
  • butter: stick with unsalted so you can better control the salt content. The biggest deal with making this pie is melting the butter so it is very, very soft but creamy. You don’t want it to separate. Melt it in very short bursts on medium power in the microwave, whisking well after each burst. You can substitute vegan butter to make this pie dairy-free.
  • dark brown sugar: you can use granulated sugar if you’d like. I like the depth of flavor the molasses gives. If you don’t have dark brown sugar, add a touch of molasses–maybe 1-2 teaspoons–to light brown sugar, or add about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of molasses if you are using granulated sugar
  • cocoa powder: this is where the chocolate flavor comes from. Ounce for ounce, cocoa powder packs more chocolate flavor because it’s made up overwhelmingly of powdered cocoa solids rather than a mixture of cacao, sugar, fats, etc
  • eggs: the eggs allow the custard to set and provide gooey richness
  • finely ground cornmeal: do not substitute cornstarch or the much more coarsely ground grits or polenta
  • espresso powder or instant coffee (optional but nice): deepens the chocolate flavor
  • vanilla: rounds out the flavor profile
  • kosher salt: keeps bitterness in check and brings all the flavors into focus

And remember: no evaporated milk? No problem! You don’t need it for this chess pie.

If your pantry and fridge looks more or less like mine, the only thing you might not have is the cornmeal and possibly the espresso powder or instant coffee. So, your shopping list will be pretty short!

This pie is marvelous! I can’t have dairy so I substituted the butter for vegan butter. I’ve been wanting to make a dairy free chocolate chess pie for a while but had trouble finding a good recipe. My search is over! This recipe was perfect and this pie was the star of my Thanksgiving dessert table. Thank you for sharing!

Reader Kallie

Other “Desperation Pie” Recipes

This pie is “jes'” one of four “desperation pies” I made for an old-fashioned pie series. Here are the rest.

A collage of four photos, each with a different kind of piece of pie on a plate.
  1. Cinnamon Sorghum Custard Pie
  2. Classic Shoo Fly Pie
  3. this one right here
  4. Indiana Sugar Cream Pie

What Makes This Recipe the Best?

[Your chocolate chess pie recipe] has been on my dessert rotation list for quite a while now. Closest thing to my mama’s I have found (and truthfully, a bit better – oops, sorry mom)

Reader Ruth Ann

Most recipes for this old-fashioned pie add some cocoa powder to the custard to make it chocolatey. But honestly, I’ve not been a super fan of those versions.

Even when The Beloved and I went to The Angus Barn, the very well-known and highly regarded steakhouse between Durham and Raleigh, I was underwhelmed by their chocolate chess pie.

Even though the Los Angeles Times apparently raved about this pie at one point, it was just too sweet and not chocolatey enough for me.

And you know there is nothing worse than getting a chocolate dessert and having it just taste sweet and brown.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to enrich the pie so that it’s as deeply chocolatey as its color implies it will be.

Pro Tips for Maximum Chocolaty-ness

  1. Use brown sugar in the filling. That bit of molasses helps to deepen the chocolate flavor.
  2. Don’t add dairy. We don’t want a milk chocolate pie, so other than a bit of butter, let the cocoa powder do all the talking for you. Leave the evaporated milk on the shelf and back away.
  3. Add a touch of espresso powder to further deepen the chocolate flavor. It won’t taste like a mocha pie unless you go overboard, so don’t worry about adding a teaspoon or two of espresso powder to the mix.
  4. Do NOT leave out salt. Salt is essential for bringing out flavors.

Here’s How I Made the Crust Design

2 images showing how to make the crust treatment for an old fashioned pie.
  • After lining the pie pan with the crust, I trimmed it to about a 1/2″ overhang and then folded the excess under to make a double-thickness around the rim (you can see that in the photo of the baked pie).
  • Then I simply cut wee squares of scrap dough and glued them down with egg wash.
  • I did blind-bake my crust for about 15 minutes (10 with the weights you see: dried chickpeas and about five without), but that is a totally optional step. I didn’t blind-bake for either the cinnamon sorghum custard pie or the shoo fly pie, and you don’t have to either.

Jenni Says: While blind-baking can yield a crisper crust, it’s not strictly necessary when you’re making a pie with a baked filling. Bake your pie on a baking stone to ensure a crisp crust.

A slice of chocolate pie on a white plate with a silver fork ready for serving. The rest of the pie is in the background.
This pie slices like a dream and the texture is sort of “moist brownie.” Fudgy. Delicious.

For such a short ingredient list, you’re rewarded with a beautiful texture, a ton of rich, chocolate flavor, and a heavenly scent as it bakes and cools. This pie really is a winner!

No bells and whistles. No swoops of meringue or avalanches of whipped cream. It’s short and humble. Modest. It’s Jes’ (delicious) Paah.

Q & A

Can I make this pie dairy free?

Yes you can. Use a dairy-free crust recipe (or get a dairy-free storebought crust) and substitute 1 stick of plant-based butter for the dairy butter. Note that most plant-based butter is salted, so you may need to cut back on additional salt by a little bit.

Why does my chocolate chess pie sometimes separate?

It’s mainly two issues. One is you need to whisk the eggs in really well so the batter doesn’t separate as it bakes, and another is that your butter is too hot. When you melt butter all the way, it separates into pure butterfat and milk solids. This separated butter can make a runny layer in your chess pie. What you want to do is melt the butter without breaking the emulsion, and that means making sure it stays creamy and opaque but very very soft so it’s easily whisked into the rest of the batter.

Why is my chess pie sometimes runny?

It could be underbaked, or it could also be the separation issue I mentioned above. With this recipe, between the 3 eggs, the cornmeal, and taking the time to melt the butter slowly so it doesn’t break or separate, your pie will bake up into a sort of moist/gooey brownie texture, or as one reader said, like pecan pie. Once cooled, it will slice beautifully into wedges.

How can I tell if my pie is done?

Once fully baked, your pie will still have a bit of a wobble in the center, but the outsides and to within about 1-2u0022 of the center will be puffed up and firm to the touch. The pie will sink as it cools. Don’t worry, that’s just what chess pie does. If you want to be super sure your pie is done, check for a temperature of 160F in the center of the pie.

Serving Suggestions

This pie practically begs for a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a nice big swoosh of hand-whipped cream.

You can also pipe stabilized whipped cream all over the top for a different spin and look.

Also, if you are really into chocolate desserts, spread a thin layer of my hot fudge sauce all over the top of the pie for more of a mudslide-type pie.

Seriously, with a chocolate chess pie as the base, you really can’t go wrong!

Questions?

If you have any questions about this post or recipe, I am happy to help.

Simply leave a comment here and I will get back to you soon. I also invite you to ask question in my Facebook group, Fearless Kitchen Fun.

If your question is more pressing, please feel free to email me. I should be back in touch ASAP, as long as I’m not asleep.

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07/19/2024 12:57 am GMT
5 golden stars for rating recipes
A slice of chocolate pie on a white plate with a fork.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chess Pie Recipe

Jennifer Field
This chocolate chess pie is thickened with fine cornmeal and eggs, and the chocolate is reinforced with the addition of just enough instant coffee and salt to make it sing.
4.53 from 51 votes
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Pies and Tarts
Cuisine Southern
Servings 8 servings
Calories 332 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 9 ” pie crust , frozen using your favorite pie crust recipe or store-bought
  • 2 oz 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 10.5 oz 1 1/2 cups, packed dark brown sugar*
  • 1 oz 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons finely milled cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (or finely ground instant coffee)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt (use slightly less if using fine sea salt)

Instructions
 

  • Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F.
  • Slowly melt the butter so that it remains creamy. It should stay emulsified and not separate into clear yellow, runny butter. I melted mine in the microwave in short bursts at medium power until it was mostly melted, then I whisked it until all the butter was melted. Pour the creamy melted butter into a medium-sized bowl.
  • Add the dark brown sugar,* making sure there are no lumps in it, the cocoa powder, eggs, cornmeal, epsresso powder, vanilla and salt.
  • Whisk very well to make a smooth batter. Scrape the bowl a couple of times to make sure all the ingredients are evenly incorporated in the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the frozen pie crust.
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the entire pie is puffed up but is still a little jiggly in the center. You may have to cover the crust with foil after the first 20 minutes or so to prevent over-browning, so keep an eye on it.
  • Remove the pie from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Serve warm or cold, with or without ice cream or whipped cream.
  • Enjoy!

Did You Make Any Changes?

Notes

*If you can’t find dark brown sugar, use 10.5 oz light brown sugar and 1 Tablespoon molasses.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 pieCalories: 332kcalCarbohydrates: 51gProtein: 4gSaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 76mgSodium: 390mgFiber: 1gSugar: 36g
Keyword chocolate chess pie, dessert, pie, southern desserts
Did you make this recipe?Please tell us what you loved!
Printable recipe card for this pie.

Thank you for spending some time with me today, friends.

Enjoy this simple, delicious chess pie. Take care.

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25 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This simple pie is decadently delicious. The filling is rich, sweet and gooey, slightly reminiscent of a lava cake. I blind-baked my crust and cooled it to room temperature before filling. The filling sets up as the pie cools so you have to be careful not to overbake. Mine was done in just under 40 minutes. The pie tasted great warm, at room temperature and chilled. A dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream help to cut the sweetness. I’m going to try using a bit less brown sugar the next time. I didn’t make any changes to the recipe.

    1. Sadi, thank you so much for this thoughtful review, and I’m thrilled that you love the pie! I love that you’re planning on reducing the sugar next time to suit your personal tastes. My recipe is just a starting point for you to make this pie *yours!* Enjoy!

  2. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon your blog but however, I’m so glad I did… I’m hooked! I love the whys and hows. I haven’t wanted to learn to cook better and different than I have until the last 10 years. Your blog encourages me to try new things and do some of my regular things different. I know this follows the chocolate chess pie post (which I’m excited to try the dairy free version) but I loved the tutorial on how to not end up with “naked noodles” with your vodka sauce posts…never knew I could make it so much better!! Thank you for generously sharing your skills and knowledge!!

    1. Oh, my goodness, Diane, thank you for your comment! I am so glad my site is inspiring you–that is always my goal, and I think the hows are way more important to understand than the whats. And yes, that marrying pasta to sauce is a game changer! Please never hesitate to get in touch if you ever have any questions or would like to request a recipe. Take care, and thank you again.

  3. This pie is marvelous! I can’t have dairy so I substituted the butter for vegan butter. I’ve been wanting to make a dairy free chocolate chess pie for a while but had trouble finding a good recipe. My search is over! This recipe was perfect and this pie was the star of my Thanksgiving dessert table. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi, Kallie! I’m thrilled you like the pie and, more importantly maybe, that it was easy for you to make it dairy-free! Thanks so much for letting me know. It makes me happy to know that my recipes find places on people’s tables!

  4. Hi! I’ve tried this and other chocolate chess pie recipes, but I don’t know why whenever I take it out of the oven, the filling collapses and the pie ends up looking flat. What can I do to avoid this from happening?

    1. Hmm. I’d have to know exactly how you mixed the batter together. If you whisked really vigorously and whipped air in, it could “souffle” and the collapse, so that could be the issue. As you can tell from the photos, it’s not a very thick pie to begin with, so maybe you are just looking for a pie with a thicker filling? If you could give me some details about how you mixed the batter, maybe I can better help troubleshoot. Let me know, Valentina. I’m happy to help!

  5. I have regular cornmeal-type cornmeal– can I grind it in a spice grinder to make it fine, or should I use cornstarch? The recipe looks great!

    1. Hey there, M. I think the texture you’d get with cornstarch would be way different than the fudgy texture from the cornmeal. I don’t think your spice grinder is up to the task of making cornmeal more fine, though. You can use regular cornmeal as long as it’s not super coarse like polenta. The bake time *should* give it plenty of time to soften up and gelatinize in the oven. I vote that it is worth a shot to see what texture you get. Maybe do a test without a pie shell and with maybe a 1/2 recipe of the filling and bake it off to see if you like it before you commit to a full-on pie. Let me know how it goes, and enjoy!

      1. So here’s what I did and it worked perfectly!
        I sifted the regular yellow cornmeal I have with a tea strainer to get the finer stuff. It didn’t take too long to get 2 tbsp and it wasn’t gritty at all. Thanks for your response!

  6. I just realized yesterday that in two weeks is “National Pie Day” as in “Pi Day”. You know, that 3/14 or 3.14. It seems as if you’re all set. I decided yesterday I would have a pie party that day. As soon as I saw your four pies you have together as a group I would definitely make these four to start. To begin with, they’re easy to put together. They don’t take nearly as long as peeling 8 or 10 apples, coring, peeling and slicing and partially cooking apples for a good apple pie. Then with cherry I like to do the lattice crust which takes a little longer. I’ll do them, but its good to know I have 4 easy ones. One I will do is just the simple egg custard pie. Unfortunately my dad won’t be here, the folks are traveling, and this is one of his favorites but it is mine too. I love nutmeg. That’s why the other pie WILL have the nutmeg, the sugar pie. I’m very anxious to do that one. I’ve heard of it, just never made it. So encourage all your readers to get ready for pie day in about 14 days, get baking.

  7. HI Jenny,
    I just love your blog! I want to make your chocolate chess pie an at the bottom it says if you can’t find dark brown sugar you can use 10.5 oz of light brown sugar + 1 tbs of molasses, what equals 10.5 oz?
    Thank you.

    1. I see you already found your answer, but I wanted to thank you for your comment and for reading. I appreciate it so much–without readers, I would literally be talking to myself! Enjoy the pie, Teresa!

  8. Haven’t tried the Chess filling yet, but I used this domino-edge crust technique on a Marlborough Apple Pie I made yesterday, and it was darned easy and ADORABLE.

  9. 5 stars
    The name of this pie, though I’ve never tasted one, has intrigued me since Kennedy was in the White House. The history of the dessert presented here, more so its colloquialism, is wonderful―just as you are for sharing the recipe with us. Cheers!

4.53 from 51 votes (49 ratings without comment)

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