Holiday Baking: Rum-Raisin Chess Pie

Rum Raisin Chess Pie _SACASA.jpg

Oh, it's chess pie. [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

I go through cycles with the desserts I like, and especially with those I prepare. Last year I was hooked on Salted Caramel-Chocolate Pudding Cake and made it over and over for dinner parties.

This year, the sticky, salty-sweet cake couldn't hold a candle to chess pie. This dessert, for those who are unfamiliar, is a Southern specialty. It was dubbed "Chess Pie" for a number of different unfounded explanations, my favorite being because in that charming accent, Southern belles and ladies would coyly murmur of it, "Oh, it's just [read "chess"] pie." And it is, really, batting eyelashes aside, just pie. Its ingredients are humble: buttermilk, eggs, sugar, and butter. During baking, these simple components melt into a thick, gooey, and velvety filling, with a texture somewhere between thick jam and curd.

Most chess pies have a tablespoon or two of cornmeal. I've kept this ingredient and included it in the filling as well as on top, opting for a coarse grind for crunch. The vinegar may seem an odd addition, but some acid is necessary to curb the tooth aching sweetness of the thing.

This take on the traditional pie folds in another classic combination: rum and raisins. Raisins are plumped in simmering dark rum and stirred into the mixture, each bite a small burst of that spirit. To counterbalance the pie's sweetness and soft filling, the crust is thicker than a standard pie's and contains almonds. Altogether, rum raisin chess pie is overwhelming in the most sensory and delicious of ways.

About the author: María del Mar Sacasa is a food stylist, recipe developer, and author of the food blog Cookin' and Shootin'. Her first book, Winter Cocktails is currently on sale.

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