Is chess pie "pretty?" No. Is it insanely good? Yes! To borrow from chef David Chang's term, I'll call this pie "ugly delicious," and highly recommend it to you next time you need (yes, need) to make a pie.
We had a hankering for pie and, as shown in the previous post, an abundance of maple syrup that we were also itching to use in a dessert. Thus, chess pie was the dessert of choice. Chess pie, if you aren't familiar, is a traditional Southern dessert that is essentially a custard pie. This is the perfect pie to make when you are between seasons, as we are right now, when we are post-apples and winter squash and pre-rhubarb and strawberries. The custard in a chess pie is unique because it is made with buttermilk and has a bit of cornmeal in it to help thicken and set the custard. It is typically made with cane sugar, but maple syrup (or honey) works really well, too. My favorite part of chess pie is the golden, crispy crust that forms on top from the caramelized sugar, providing a richer, caramel flavor on top and a contrasting texture. I did a deep dive into different chess pie recipes, such as those from the Kitchn, Sean Brock and Christina Tosi's version she calls "crack pie," then played with the ratios to make the filling I liked best and adjusted everything as needed to use a liquid sweetener like maple syrup.
For the crust, I used the all butter crust in Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which I adore, but you could use any crust you like, including a lard-based crust or gluten free crust. Pie crust is basically my one baked good I don't try to sneak sourdough or sprouted flour into...the occasional regular pie crust (still with organic flour and a bit of whole spelt) is fine once in a while. For the gluten-free folks, you can sub gluten free all purpose flour, such as Bob's Red Mill, for the regular flour in the filling. You could also try using all cornmeal instead of a mixture of cornmeal and flour and see how that goes; in that case, I would add a bit of cornstarch to the mix to lighten it up.
Unfortunately, we were pruning our apple tree while this pie baked, and I failed to hear the timer, so it got about ten minutes over-baked. That is just fine for the filling but the crust was over-done...we certainly still ate it without complaint, however. We just had ours extra crispy.
A few recipe notes: This recipe is for a deep dish pie pan; if you only have a regular pie pan, simply decrease the filling ingredients by 1/4. When making the custard, add the buttermilk as the very last ingredient and pour the custard immediately into the crust and bake right away; because the buttermilk is so acidic, it can cause the filling to curdle if mixed in too early. This is not a blind-baked crust, so go ahead and pour your filling into an unbaked crust and bake it from there. Once baked, which should take about an hour or the custard is just set (the Kitchn chess pie recipe says the custard will read 200 F when ready), let the pie rest at least an hour before slicing and serving. It is so good when still a little warm, right at that hour mark, but it is also amazing cold. Perhaps even better? I am a huge fan of cold pie, so I strongly suggest you try at least one slice cold, for me.
Maple Buttermilk Chess Pie
Makes 1 9" Deep Dish Pie
1 Pie Crust, homemade or store-bought,chilled
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus an extra tablespoon for sprinkling
6 Tbs butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 Tbs vanilla
Optional: 1 tsp maple extract
4 Tbs flour
4 Tbs fine cornmeal
1/2 tsp sea salt, plus an extra pinch or two for sprinkling
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk + 1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar whisked together and let sit for 15 min)
Preheat oven to 350 F. If making your own buttermilk, whisk together the milk and vinegar 15 minutes before beginning and set aside.
Roll out your pie crust and fit into a deep dish pie pan. Refrigerate your crust while you make the custard.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, sugar, eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and maple extract (if using) until well combined. Sprinkle in the flour, cornmeal, and salt, stirring vigorously to remove any lumps.
Set your pie pan on the counter. Whisk the buttermilk/milk+vinegar mix into the filling mixture and pour immediately into the crust. Put right into the oven.
Bake for 30 minutes, then carefully sprinkle an extra tablespoon of sugar on top of the filling to create a crust. Bake another 20-30 minutes until the filling is set. It may slightly jiggle but should not be liquid at all.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top with a pinch or two of good quality, flaky sea salt. Let cool for an hour before slicing and serving.
Store leftovers in the fridge, where it will keep for 2-3 days.
Brine & Broth
I am a nutritionist in Southwest Wisconsin, focused on traditional, nutrient-dense foods. My goal is to provide you with simple and delicious recipes that fit into real life, and information for choosing healthful real foods. Enjoy!