Chess pie is notoriously southern, and I have recollections of it dating back to childhood. I remember my grandmother, a former Home Economics teacher, baking them for family get-togethers. Sitting in either a tin pie pan or old school brownish glass one, with a flaky, sugary, crusty top layer that is humble and unassuming. Until you eat it. My next encounter was with a Jefferson Davis pie my sweet sister-in-law made: creamy, dense, sweet, not too sweet. Then I got a job making pastries at a quaint little restaurant with Southern roots, and I baked them far more than I care to remember.
What I remember about making 2 a day during my stint at that restaurant was how incredibly simple they were. Putting a chess pie together is more of an afterthought than anything. The most tiresome aspect of it is putting together the pie dough, but you could easily skip that step with a pre-made one. Beyond that, you grab a whisk and a bowl, pour in some sugar, fat, eggs, and flavoring, pour it in the crust, and let bake. Although the outcome is a humble looking pie, anyone who’s ever tasted such a treat knows that with simplicity comes amazingly sweet and comforting flavors.
All of these memories came flooding back a few Saturdays ago when I was itching to make something both for this here blog and some friends who were coming over for dinner. We hadn’t been to the grocery store in a week or two, and I had no desire to leave the house since my yoga pants and makeup-less face were working so well for me. But the refrigerator and pantry staples I never run out of were highlighted by a heavenly light to remind me what potential lay ahead: butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, heavy cream, eggs. Chess pie.
What’s that lurking in the back of the pantry? Cocoa powder? Okay, chocolate chess pie. To tweak with the simplicity and add a bit of flare that fits our taste preferences, I added a few tablespoons of leftover stout coffee into the custard mix, and the what came out of the oven was ah.maz.ing. The end result was a classic chess pie, solid yet creamy, sweet with a heavenly crunch on the top. But the addition of coffee happily caught me off guard and amplified the earthy and sweet cocoa flavors, leaving me with a delightful little caffeine buzz. I hadn’t thought it would be as obvious a flavor as it was, but it was perfection.
I topped it with freshly whipped cream, and was admittedly a bit heavy-handed with the bourbon I decided to pour in at the last minute, so decrease the amount if you’re wary of getting boozed up from your dessert. To add some easy color and pizzazz to the almost-end product, I finely grated chocolate chips over the whipped cream-smothered pie, giving it a sweet and lovely dusting of more chocolatey goodness.
The friends we welcomed to our home that night gave the pie a hearty approval, and together we devoured over half of it. The pups also offered their assistance, but since both caffeine and chocolate were involved and we love them more than life itself, we sadly had to tell them no.
The pie dough recipe is from my favorite recipe book, The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather. If you even remotely love Texas or butter, buy it now.
Coffee Chocolate Chess Pie
For the Pie
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 11 tablespoons butter chilled and cut into small cubes
- 4-5 tablespoons ice water
For the filling
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 5 ounces heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 tablespoons strong black coffee
For the Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons bourbon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar
- For the pie crust, mix together the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. With the paddle running, slowly add the butter cubes one by one, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the tablespoons of water one at a time, or until the mixture comes together.
- Let the dough cool for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator, then roll out and prepare in a 8" or 9" pie pan.
- For the filling, whisk together all ingredients until well combined. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Bake in an oven preheated at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, or until the dough is lightly golden and the center of the custard is set. Let cool.
- For the whipped cream, whisk the cold heavy cream on medium high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until you see it start to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and bourbon, and continue mixing until stiff peaks form.
- Spread the whipped cream over the cooled pie. Optionally, you can take chocolate chips to a zester and sprinkle over the whipped cream to add tiny shavings and an extra flavor of chocolate to the dish.