Chess Pie

Chess Pie is a delicious classic that’s perfect for a celebration or holiday gathering. Its multi-layer decadence, luscious texture and sweet, rich flavor is simply sublime! 

Slice of southern chess pie served on a white plate with scalloped edges. Fall foliage is shown surrounding the plate.

Slice of southern chess pie served on a white plate with scalloped edges. Fall foliage is shown surrounding the plate.

What is Chess Pie?

Chess pie is a popular dessert in the American South that originated from England. It is a custard style pie with a crisp browned topping.

It is generally made up of a traditional pie crust while the filling consists of eggs, milk or buttermilk, flour, sugar and often vinegar or lemon.

You’ll love this pie not only for it’s irresistible sweet flavor but also because it’s one of the easier pies to make.

No peeling and chopping loads of fruit or making a tricky curd or meringue. Rather here you just blend some standard baking ingredients and pour into a pie crust and bake.

Why is it called chess pie?

There are actually several beliefs as to where the name originally came from. You can read about three of them here.

What makes this the best chess pie?

I like this version best because of the browned butter. This secret ingredient is the ultimate upgrade to chess pie.

It adds a slightly caramel-like, even nutty flavor to the pie.

And once you try it this way I have the feeling it’s the only way you’ll make it from here on out!

Image of chess pie cut into slices. Pie is shown in a glass baking dish set over a grey cloth on a wooden serving tray.

Image of chess pie cut into slices. Pie is shown in a glass baking dish set over a grey cloth on a wooden serving tray.

Chess Pie Ingredients

  • Standard pie crust: Homemade is best of course but store bought will work fine too to save time.
  • Salted butter: I always thinks salted butter tastes best when browned, plus this pie is rather sweet so the salty butter balances that out.
  • Granulated sugar: Traditional chess pie uses TWO cups sugar but I’ve found that to be way too sweet so I’ve cut back by 3/4 cup.
  • Cornmeal: This adds that traditional golden brown crusted layer on top you’ll find in classic southern chess pie.
  • All-purpose flour: Only a small amount is needed to assist in thickening.
  • Salt: This is a critical ingredient to keep the pie from tasting flat and balancing sweetness.
  • Milk: I like whole milk for extra richness.
  • White vinegar: This offers the pie a very light tang and brings a multi dimensional flavor.
  • Vanilla extract: Very often when baking I like to add a fair amount of vanilla but here I think we don’t want to overdue it and overpower the flavor of the browned butter. Seeds of 1/2 a vanilla bean would be also be delicious in its place.
  • Eggs: Unfortunately there are no substitutes for this ingredient. Eggs are a must to achieve the proper flavor and consistency.Image of ingredients used to make chess pie. Includes pie crust dough, cornmeal, vinegar, eggs, sugar, flour, milk, vanilla, butter and salt. Image of ingredients used to make chess pie. Includes pie crust dough, cornmeal, vinegar, eggs, sugar, flour, milk, vanilla, butter and salt.

How to Make Chess Pie

  1. Prepare pie crust: Roll pie crust out about 12-inches, transfer to a standard pie plate. Shape into pie plate and decorate edges as desired.
  2. Chill crust: Chill until crust is more firm, about 1 hour.
  3. Brown butter: Melt butter in a medium, light-colored skillet. Let cook, stirring frequently until it has a nutty aroma and has browned (careful not to burn it, it should be an amber brown).
  4. Cool butter: Pour into a dish and let cool 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven and baking sheet: Place a baking sheet in oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Beat eggs: In a mixing bowl beat eggs lightly to blend.
  7. Separately mix dry ingredients: In a separate mixing bowl whisk together granulated sugar, cornmeal, flour and salt.
  8. Blend in wet ingredients: Pour in browned butter, milk, vinegar and vanilla and mix then add eggs and mix well.
  9. Bake until nearly set: Pour into prepared crust and bake on baking sheet in preheated oven until edges are puffy and set but center just wiggles slightly, about 45 – 55 minutes.
  10. Let cool and slice: Transfer to a wire rack to cool 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Collage of six images showing steps of making chess pie. Includes shaping pie crust in pie dish, browning butter in skillet, whisking eggs in bowl, and mixing flour, cornmeal and sugar in separate bowl.

Collage of six images showing steps of making chess pie. Includes shaping pie crust in pie dish, browning butter in skillet, whisking eggs in bowl, and mixing flour, cornmeal and sugar in separate bowl.

Collage of six images showing continued making of chess pie. Includes mixing in butter, then eggs. Also shows pouring batter into pie crust and shows pie baking in oven and what it should look like upon completion.Collage of six images showing continued making of chess pie. Includes mixing in butter, then eggs. Also shows pouring batter into pie crust and shows pie baking in oven and what it should look like upon completion.

My Favorite Pie Crust Recipe

My favorite pie crust recipe is the one I’ve used here, omitting the sugar (since this pie is already plenty sweet). Prepare through step 2 as directed then follow recipe here as directed.

How to Store

Pie should be stored in refrigerator. Personally I think it’s best served within 2 days.

Overhead image of chess pie with one slice cut and removed.

Overhead image of chess pie with one slice cut and removed.

Variations

  • Lemon Chess Pie: Use 3 Tbsp lemon juice in place of vinegar. Add 2 Tbsp lemon zest along with liquids. Butter does not need to be browned.
  • Chocolate Chess Pie: These ratios are quite a bit different, follow a recipe like this one.
  • Coconut Chess Pie: After adding eggs stir in 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut and 1 tsp coconut extract. Browning butter is optional for this version.
  • Buttermilk Chess Pie: Replace milk with 1/2 cup buttermilk.
  • Honey Chess Pie: Replace 1 1/4 cups sugar with 1 cup honey.
  • Optional garnishing variation: Dust pie with a little cinnamon or powdered sugar.

Three slices of chess pie shown on white dessert plates with vibrantly colored fall leaves surrounding.

Three slices of chess pie shown on white dessert plates with vibrantly colored fall leaves surrounding.

More Classic Southern Pie Recipes You’ll Love

Slice of chess pie on a white dessert plate with fall leaves surrounding plate.Slice of chess pie on a white dessert plate with fall leaves surrounding plate.

Chess Pie

A rich, sweet and decadent Southern pie made with simple ingredients. This variation includes browning the butter to really upgrade the flavor of the pie.

Servings: 8

Prep30 minutes

Cook50 minutes

Rest1 hour 50 minutes

Ready in: 3 hours 10 minutes

  • 1 prepared pie crust (homemade* or store-bought, unbaked)
  • 1/2 cup (113g) salted butter, diced into 1-Tbsp pieces
  • 1 1/4 cup (250g) granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp (22g) cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp (10g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • Roll pie crust out about 12-inches then roll up around rolling pin and transfer to a standard pie plate. Unroll and shape into pie plate and decorate edges as desired. Chill until crust is firm, at least 1 hour.

  • Melt butter in a medium, light-colored skillet. Let cook, stirring frequently until it has a nutty aroma and has browned (careful not to burn it, it should be an amber brown). Pour into a dish and let cool 1 hour.

  • Place a baking sheet in oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • In a mixing bowl beat eggs lightly to blend.

  • In a separate mixing bowl whisk together granulated sugar, cornmeal, flour and salt.

  • Pour in browned butter, milk, vinegar and vanilla to sugar mixture and blend. Add eggs and mix until well combined.

  • Pour into prepared crust and bake on baking sheet in preheated oven until edges are set but center just wiggles slightly, about 45 – 55 minutes.

  • Transfer to a wire rack to cool 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Store pie in refrigerator.

*My favorite pie crust recipe is the one I’ve used here, omitting the sugar (since this pie is already plenty sweet). Prepare through step 2 as directed then follow recipe here as directed.

Nutrition Facts

Chess Pie

Amount Per Serving

Calories 452
Calories from Fat 243

% Daily Value*

Fat 27g42%

Saturated Fat 16g100%

Cholesterol 156mg52%

Sodium 293mg13%

Potassium 76mg2%

Carbohydrates 48g16%

Fiber 1g4%

Sugar 32g36%

Protein 6g12%

Vitamin A 876IU18%

Calcium 35mg4%

Iron 1mg6%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.