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. If that sounds good to you, read on!
There are plenty of versions of chess pie. This one happens to contain cornmeal, but others are use 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! 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!
Click to find more old fashioned pie recipes.
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.”
“It ain’t nuthin’. Jes’ paah.”
As I’ve said, this is “just pie,” so I promise you don’t need any fancy ingredients.
Aside from the pie crust, run go check and see if you have the following:
- 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
- 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!
Other “Desperation Pie” Recipes
This pie is “jes'” one of four “desperation pies” I made for #tbt in January, 2016. Here are the rest.
Pinner Noelle from Busy Mom Recipes by Noelle made this chess pie. Here’s what she had to say:
I must agree–this pie is both super fudgy and sinfully delicious! Here’s a photo of Noelle’s beautiful pie:
The Christmas Version
Looking for a Christmas version of this pie? Check out my Mexican Hot Chocolate Pie.
What Makes This Recipe the Best?
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
- Use brown sugar in the filling. That bit of molasses helps to deepen the chocolate flavor.
- 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.
- 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.
Here’s How I Made the Crust Design
- 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.
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. Like the other #tbtfood pies I’ve baked, this humble guy really shines.
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
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.
It could be underbaked, or it could also be the separation issue I mention above. With this recipe, between the 3 eggs, the cornmeal, and your 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.
Once fully baked, your pie will still have a bit of a wobble in the center, but the outsides and to within about 1-2″ 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.
If you have any other questions about this recipe or any other, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
You can leave a comment here, and I will be back in touch in about 24 hours.
If your question in more urgent, you can email me and I answer within about 4 hours.
Either way, I promise to help!
A Note About Measurements
NOTE: Most of my recipes are written by weight and not volume, even the liquids.
Even though I try to provide you with volume measurements as well, I encourage you to buy a kitchen scale for ease of measuring, accuracy, and consistency.
This is the scale I use, love, and recommend.
I really hope you love this recipe, you guys!
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Thanks, and enjoy!
- 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
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, (use slightly less if using fine sea salt)
- 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.
*If you can't find dark brown sugar, use 10.5 oz light brown sugar and 1 Tablespoon molasses.
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Nutrition InformationYield 8 Serving Size 1/8 pie
Amount Per Serving Calories 332Saturated Fat 6gCholesterol 76mgSodium 390mgCarbohydrates 51gFiber 1gSugar 36gProtein 4g
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Enjoy this simple, delicious chess pie, and have a lovely day.