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If you've got a super, ooey, gooey, sticky sweet tooth, then this classic pie from the South is for you. I learned about it while working with a sous chef from Virginia who had an insatiable taste for sweets, and who begged me to make it for the family meal whenever I had a few spare minutes. Because it's just about the easiest pie in the world to throw together, I was always happy to indulge her with a sweet taste from home.
The origin of the name "Chess Pie" is unclear; some attribute it to its ancestor, the cheese tart, while others believe it was named for Chester County, or for the pie "chest" in which it was kept prior to serving. It is mysterious origin stories that make these old time-y recipes so appealing, but, especially in the case of Chess Pie, it's also the sugar that keeps folks coming back for more.
Why so sweet? To achieve the best consistency in the filling—one that's loose and creamy, firm enough to slice, but quivery at the same time—you need the perfect ratio of sugar to eggs, which is to say, a high ratio. Those are the two main ingredients, but they are supported just slightly by a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla, a hint of milk and vinegar (which balances the sweetness a bit), and a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal and flour. Those last two are there to form just a wisp of a thin, crackly, caramelized crust over the top, which is my favorite part.
This is a great staple pie, easy to make with a few basic ingredients that you probably already have at home. If you've got the goods, click over to the recipe and make one of your own.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.