Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chess pie is an actual dessert

My dog's name is Jet.
However, I rarely call her Jet.
I call her Chess. Chessie. Chessa. Chesapeaker. Chesapeakin' Peaker. (She is, after all, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.) I also call her Sweet Pea, Sweet Pie, Sweetie Pea, Sweetie Pie. At times I just call her Pie. Sometimes she is just called Beauty. Sometimes, Sweetheart. And often, Chess Pie.
And though I have been calling her Chess Pie with some regularity for the past two years, it only occurred to me three days ago that chess pie is an actual dessert.

Though Chess Pie sleeps in my bed every night, I have to admit, I have never had chess pie before. So it is not on the merits of its own baked goodness that chess pie makes an appearance here today. But seeing as how I inadvertently nicknamed my dog after an old-fashioned Southern dessert -- and seeing as how I write a blog devoted to the intersection of food and joyful life experiences -- well, this seemed like the right time to explore the sweet simplicity of the chess pie.

The confection, not the pup.

So what is chess pie? Basically, it's pecan pie without the pecans. A sugary, eggy filling untempered by nuts. And the name? It could be a reference to an archaic usage of the word "cheese," where "cheese" was used to describe a baked good that had the consistency of (cream) cheese even if it didn't include the ingredient itself. Or it could refer to Chester, England. Or it could have to do with the pie chest/pie safe, a piece of furniture where pies were placed to await consumption. What it doesn't seem to be, sadly, is a reference to my dog, much as I think she is the center of the universe.

This recipe comes from the tried and true Helen Corbitt's Cookbook. When it dawned on me last week that there was such a pie as chess pie, my first instinct was to call Mom and ask she if she had a recipe somewhere in her library of books and/or her repertoire of culinary life experiences. Her first instinct was to refer me to dear old Helen. I love the recipe's simplicity: five ingredients, 10 lines of text including the title. As much as I like mammoth complex recipes, every so often I relish a dish whose preparation can be encapsulated in just a handful of printed characters. I think there is a reason culinary classics are so simple: they stand the test of time because they are easily prepared with readily available ingredients and unfussy methods that can be effortlessly communicated and passed on between generations.

But back to Jet.
As I bake this pie this evening, each time I refer to it by its name I get a large, inquisitive pup at my side. I get a snout wedged between my apron and the counter top. I get a pair of big hazel eyes staring hopefully at my hands as if to wish the contents of the mixing bowl into her mouth. I get a head cocked with adorable anticipation that maybe, just maybe, my human is talking about a treat for Chess Pie, not chess pie as a treat. But tonight Jet will have to be sated by the Roast Toasties. The chess pie is for the people.

Adapted from Helen Corbitt's Cookbook

A word to the wise: like my Chesapeake Bay Retriever, this pie is sweet. Cut the slices small and maybe enjoy it with a cup of coffee or tea.

1 1/4 c. sugar
6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 egg yolks
3 T. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla
1 9-inch pie crust, ready-made or your own favorite recipe
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Blind bake the pie crust for about 10 minutes, until it begins to crisp and turn a light brown color. Remove and set aside.
Helen Corbitt urges us to mix this pie by hand, not in an electric mixer. So, in a medium mixing bowl and using a wooden spoon, cream together the sugar and butter. Go ahead and use your hands to really combine the sugar and butter, if you find the wooden spoon isn't doing the trick. Add the egg yolks and stir briskly to combine well. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 275 degrees and bake for an additional 40-45 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and set.
Allow the pie to cool and set. Slice, and serve! Then, kiss the dog.

Makes 1 pie.


Diane said...

What a beautiful dog! I love your blog, too, and the pictures of the chess pie look yummy!

Dianne said...

Thank you so much -- for the compliment to the dear Chess pup, and for reading the blog. I really appreciate it!

Helene said...

Had my first chess pie during my first year of marriage when my MIL made it for me and at first I thought she was saying "chest pie"! Ahahaha! You pupp is adorable!