Well, I'm glad you asked. I've been wondering the same thing...
The definition of a chess pie is somewhat simple: it's a Southern pie that includes buttermilk and cornmeal on the ingredient list, although no one really seems to know from whence the name derived. These, however, are some of my favorite theories:
-It's a Southern pie and in a shy southern accent "Oh, it's just pie" sounds like, "Aw, it's chess pie."
-It was popular back when ice chests had just come into fashion, so people called it "chest pie," but again, that tricky southern accent got in the way so it sounded like, "chess pie."
-Some recipes may or may not have include cheese, which, you guessed it, sounds like, "chess pie" in a southern accent instead of "cheese pie."
What's that? You're so happy to finally know?
Well...good. I'm so happy that I was able to help you with that.
I keep coming across different recipes for chess pies and I've been really interested to try one. the one drawback about this pie is that I've never had a chess pie before so I really don't know what they're "supposed" to taste like.
Also, I didn't realize that this pie would be so much like pudding. I expected something a little more like a classic lemon bar. So, in case you have a similar expectation, let me tell you: think lemon pudding, not lemon bar.
This recipe includes curd on the top (which seems to be unusual for chess pies, from what I've read), but that extra ting of lemon really gave this pie a good taste.
Nonetheless, I was very happy about the taste of this pie. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors for all things savory and sweet and as a whole, this pie had just enough pucker for me to be pleased.
While I was cooking the pie, I thought about not even making the lemon curd (since it wasn't really like a typical for a chess pie), and then I thought I should just make it and just serve it on the side if people wanted it. Any way, at last minute (i.e. several hours before I served it), I decided to just put it on the top like the recipe called for and I'm so glad I did. I don't think that the pie would have been as good without it.
Also, just to note, I didn't think that this pie crust was great. What's surprising to me is that it's similar to so many crusts that I've already used but it was pretty bland. It's like there wasn't enough sugar or salt to make it interesting. So, I would recommend taking the tablespoon of sugar out and increasing the salt just a little bit; however, please notice that the recipe is written like I made it.
Double Lemon Chess Pie
(adapted from Bubby's Pie Book)
5 Tablespoons ice cold water
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons butter
2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
5 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 lemons, zested
3/4 Cup sugar
¼ cup egg yolks (about 4)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
For the crust:Using a pastry cutter, press the blades through the mixture, and cut butter until it resembles coarse meal. Add water until it combines to form a ball. Form into a disk and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
Roll out on a well-floured surface into a 12-inch round. Transfer to pie pan and make sure that all edges drape over the edges. Trim edges and fold to create a decorative lip along the edge of the pan.
Make sure to keep crust cool while preparing the filling.
For Chess Filling:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
With an electric mixer, cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and cream; beat well.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt, add them to the butter mixture, and mix just until incorporated. Add the lemon juice and zest and mix briefly. Pour the filling into the pie shell.
Bake the pie on a lipped baking sheet for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is a pale golden brown and the center is only a wee bit loose.
Cool the pie on a cooling rack for 20 minutes before refrigerating. Chill completely before topping the filling with Lemon Curd. Use an offset pastry spatula to distribute it evenly, stopping just shy of the pastry crust. Chill for at least 4 hours and serve cold and plain.
For the Curd:
In a heavy, non-reactive saucepan beat the sugar and yolks until well blended. Then stir in the butter, juice, and salt and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until it thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. The mixture will change color from translucent to opaque. When ever steam appears, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly, to keep it from boiling. It must not be allowed to boil or the eggs will curdle
When the curd has thickened, pour it at once through a fine-mesh strainer. Press with the back of a spoon until only coarse residue remains. Discard the residue. Stir in the lemon zest and pour it into an airtight container. The curd will continue to thicken while resting and chilling. Curd can be stored tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.