Dipping a Toe into Pie

Well, I’ve never been a pie person. I don’t like fruit pies, by and large, and while I find the occasional pecan pie or chocolate pie very nice to eat, the fact is, I’d rather eat cake. I find piecrust not interesting or delicious enough to be worth any effort on my part.
But the fact is, there are some types of pies that I’ve read about over the years and thought, “You know, I might LIKE that. I might!” And high on that short list is something called Chess Pie.

Chess Pie is a Southern thing and it can be found in different versions. You read recipes that are based on buttermilk, recipes that involve lemon, recipes that call for a couple spoonsful of vinegar, and there even exists (clearly, for people like me) chocolate chess pie.

This year, I was a little worried about not having enough dessert options at Thanksgiving. I had a parsnip cake with caramel frosting, and I knew it would be lovely; my cousins were planning to bring a pecan pie up from New York City; but then there’s my mother, who’ll only eat a chocolate dessert, and it really was up to me to come through. I went to bed Wednesday with no chocolate dessert on hand, and a vague sense that, if need be, I’d make brownies or something. But what happened was that I inexplicably — and cruelly — awakened at 5 a.m. Thursday morning. “Well,” I said to myself. “I might as well go downstairs and make a chocolate chess pie before I have to put the turkey in the oven.”

In a burst of ambition on Wednesday, I had gone so far as to obtain a package of Pillsbury pre-made, ready-to-roll-out, piecrust, which was recommended to me very highly by one of the best (and most ambitious) bakers I know. She said, “I use it all the time to make quick quiches for dinner. It’s pretty good. You should by all means use it with a clear conscience.” I’d also gone and bought a foil pie pan. So, by ten minutes after five in the morning, I was in the kitchen unfurling a round of pie crust, and whipping up the wet and dry ingredients for the pie. It was quite simple. Strangely, I can no longer find the recipe I used — which I found online — and so I cannot provide a link, or even a precise list of ingredients. But it was, I promise, easy. I melted butter and semi-sweet chocolate in a pot and stirred them together until it was nice and smooth. I combined, in a big measuring cup, a little flour, a little cornmeal, some sugar, a little salt, and a couple of other things I can no longer recall — vanilla powder, I think — and then I stirred it into the melted butter and chocolate, and then the whole got poured into the pie pan (which I’d placed the crust in easily). I baked it for about half an hour. It came out of the oven looking like a very, very large Stella d’Oro Swiss Fudge Cookie, the way they were in the old days, when they were baked in the Bronx, and the chocolate dominated over the cooky part. God, those were good.

It turned out that this particular chocolate chess pie was, in fact, very much Swiss Fudge cooky-like to consume, as well. It is very sweet, and very rich, and it was sufficiently good that there was almost none leftover at Thanksgiving dinner. One slice, to be exact. One slice leftover. I call that success.

I plan to explore other chocolate chess pie recipes. Some call for evaporated milk, and eggs (I think the one I used required two eggs, come to think of it, but no evaporated milk). There is obviously a world of chess pies out there, waiting for me, and who knows. I may even attempt a piecrust myself one of these days. It’d be the equivalent of hell freezing over, but…. No. That’s not fair. I might make piecrust. What I don’t anticipate is becoming someone who makes rhubarb pie. Or blueberry pie. If I ever make one of those, please dial 911.


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