Sunday, October 6, 2013

Deep South Chocolate Chess Pie

Chess pie seems to be one of the Deep South's favorite desserts, and recipes for it can be found dating back almost 200 years.  The etymology of the name, however, seems to have gotten lost along the way.  Some sources say that it was originally an English pie, that made its way down to the South.  Apparently, way back when.... like before the days of refrigeration... sugar was cheaper in the South than the rest of the country, as it is refined here.  It has been stated that foods with high sugar contents did not spoil as quickly.  I have no clue if that's true or not; but that may explain why Southerner's have such a sweet tooth?  In any case, the home cooks back then kept their pies in a "pie safe" (which was a chest of sorts).   So "chest" pie may have been shortened to "chess" pie?  We may never know!

There are endless variations to the chess pie recipes, but they are ridiculously simple, and typically made with ingredients you probably already have on hand.  If you think about it, it makes complete sense for a recipe this old to be made from simple ingredients.  The filling of this pie is dense and velvety, like a fudgy custard.

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Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp + 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch of table salt
  • 5 oz canned, evaporated milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 Tbsp melted, cooled butter
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose (AP) flour
  • 1 oz strongly brewed espresso, cooled
  • 1 (9") pie crust
Topping:
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Step-by-Step:
Go ahead and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, because this won't take long to put together.  Into your mixing bowl, combine sugar, sifted cocoa powder, and salt.  Stir that around a bit to combine.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Why did I sift the cocoa?  Cocoa powder is notoriously lumpy.  I did NOT want those lumps in my batter.  Rather than pull out the sifter for this small amount, I just added them over a fine mesh strainer.  Use the back of your spoon to push the cocoa through in a circular motion.  It will come out in a fine powder - lump free!
3 Tbsp + 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Why the salt?  Baked goods with no salt tend to have a "flat" taste.  This small amount of table salt makes the flavors come alive.
pinch of salt
Now with the mixer on fairly low, I'll start adding the liquids.
5 oz canned, evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 Tbsp melted, cooled butter
2 Tbsp all purpose (AP) flour
I've been told many times, adding the strong coffee (either liquid or powdered) into chocolate recipes brings out the deeper flavors of the chocolate even more.  So if you are wondering why there is espresso in here... there's your answer.  Only one person who tasted this actually tasted the coffee flavor, the rest had no clue.
1 oz strongly brewed espresso (I looked for espresso powder, but it is a special order item)
So let's just get this over with.  If you know a great pie crust recipe, please use that!  I don't have one.  This pie crust came from a box, and you just roll it out.  You know the one I mean?  Darn it... I MUST learn how to make one!   Sigh... well that can just wait its turn behind all the other things.

But anyway, roll out your pie dough (or pull one out of the freezer), and get it ready.
1 (9") pie crust
Note to self - get a smaller pie pan.  I had on hand enough crust for a 9" pan.  My pan, however, is a 9 1/2" pan, so I had to roll the crust out thinner than it was meant to be.  So suffice it to say, I wasn't very happy with the crust.  I know, whine whine whine. 

Pour the pie filling into the crust.
If you are using a 9" pan or crust, you can expect your filling to come up higher in the pan than mine did.
So now, we're ready to pop this thing into the preheated oven.   Our target baking time will be 40-50 minutes.  Well I know that I really don't want the crust to be "exposed" for that long, so here's what I'm going to do...

I'm going to bake uncovered for 20 minutes.  Then I'm going to cover the edges (crusts) with aluminum foil for the remainder of the time.  
To do that, draw a circle on a big square of aluminum foil, that is the same size as the top rim of the pie plate.  Fold the circle into quarters (in half, then in half again).  Using kitchen shears, cut an arc about 2" smaller than the drawn circle.  See illustration.  Once you open up the foil, you should have a circular opening that will allow the crust to be covered but the filling to be exposed.

Bake another 25 minutes, then set out to cool.  Don't worry if the top cracks a bit.  It's the nature of the pie.  It's part of it!
While the pie was baking, I made my whipped cream topping.  It's super easy, and to me, tastes a ton better than the pre-prepared whipped toppings.  

So in a medium sized mixing bowl, add the very cold whipping cream.  You can also set your empty bowl in the freezer a while to get it very cold to help this process along.  I find it easiest to just use my hand mixer for this.
1 pint heavy whipping cream
Let's get the seeds out of the vanilla bean.  It's easy, don't worry.  With a sharp knife, split the vanilla pod in two lengthwise.  To each half, lay the flat edge of a knife along the pod, and scrape the seeds out with gentle pressure.  Then add them to the cream.
1 vanilla bean
Now I'm going to add some liquid vanilla.  My personal preference is for the clear, Mexican vanilla. 
1/2 tsp vanilla
Lastly, add in the powdered sugar.  To me, half a cup is plenty, because the pie is so sweet already.  But if you want it sweeter, go for it.
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Beat the cream mixture until medium peaks form.  Careful that you don't OVER beat it, or you'll make butter! 
Here are my soft peaks.  Can you see the little specks of vanilla beans in there?  Yum!  The whipped topping is light as a feather, and absolutely delicious!  This will probably make more than you need for the pie.  You can save the rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  I'm sure you'll be able to find a good use for it.  (Pancakes with strawberries and cream comes to mind for me!)
Once the pie is cool, add the whipped cream to a "dessert decorator," and pipe out some cute little stars of it.  If you don't have one of those, don't sweat it!  You could add it to a pastry bag, or to a zip top bag that you then cut the corner off of, or just spoon it around the edges and make some swirls.
Next, I grabbed a block of chocolate, and grated some over the top of the pie with a fine grater.  You could also use a microplate or citrus zester for this.  And finally, a grabbed my vegetable peeler, and ran it along the edge of the chocolate to make chocolate curls.  Give that a try - it's fun!
Tip - if you make the chocolate curls, take note that they are super delicate.  Either curl them directly onto the pie, or use a toothpick to transfer them to the pie.



I hope you enjoyed this recipe!
You can find so many more if you Click over to my Recipe IndexI'm certain we can find something awesome that you can cook with/for your family!  Some of my recipes are all from scratch, while others make liberal use of convenience items.  I'm not going to apologize for that, because sometimes we have time, and sometimes we are super busy, but still want something hot from OUR kitchen to put on the table.

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Here are some "bonus" recipes for you:

Crab Rangoons (with alternative Southwestern Chicken Rangoon filling)





Blueberry Lemon Bars (with a toasted coconut shortbread cookie crust!) 

Written Method:
Go ahead and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, because this won't take long to put together.  Into your mixing bowl, combine sugar, sifted cocoa powder, and salt.  Stir that around a bit to combine. With the mixer on fairly low, start adding the remainder of the filling ingredients.

Pour the pie filling into the crust. and bake 40-50 minutes.  Bake uncovered for the first 20 minutes, then cover the edges (crusts) with aluminum foil for the remainder of the time.  Bake another 25 minutes, then set out to cool.

While the pie is baking, make the whipped cream topping.  In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the very cold whipping cream.  You can also set your empty bowl in the freezer a while to get it very cold to help this process along.  I find it easiest to just use my hand mixer for this.

Get the seeds out of the vanilla bean.  With a sharp knife, split the vanilla pod in two lengthwise.  To each half, lay the flat edge of a knife along the pod, and scrape the seeds out with gentle pressure.  Then add them to the cream.  

Now add the liquid vanilla, and the powdered sugar.  Beat the cream mixture until medium peaks form.  Careful that you don't OVER beat it, or you'll make butter! 
Pipe the whipped cream topping onto the cooled pie. Garnish if desired with grated chocolate and chocolate curls.  Tip - if you make the chocolate curls, take note that they are super delicate.  Either curl them directly onto the pie, or use a toothpick to transfer them to the pie.

2 comments:

  1. Julie, this is such a gorgeous pie! I don't even know where to start to describe it: its color, its richness, its history, the way you decorated it! Oh, how much I crave to have a slice of this right now! :) You have such lovely step-by-step photos - makes one feel like they are in the kitchen with you. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awww, Julia! That was the nicest comment!! And I LOVE that you feel you are in the kitchen with me. That is exactly what I want readers to feel. You just made my day! :)

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