Three words: Chocolate Chess Pie. Add “Easy” to the title because this easy-as-pie pie is a quick, rich, people-pleasing winner. And did I mention “chocolate”? Advice? Make two Chocolate Chess Pies while you’re at it, because this recipe doubles up easily, and one Chocolate Chess Pie won’t stay around for long!
Where did this pie come from?
When I was working on my cookbook Southern Pies, my friend Carol Thomason Price told me about her mother’s stellar reputation as a cook. Lucky me! Mrs. Thomason kindly shared her recipe for this beloved Southern treat, and it is a treasure.
What is Chess Pie?
Chess pie is an old-time Southern classic, dating back to the 1800’s, and made from ingredients most home cooks had on hand: Sugar, butter, and eggs. Earliest versions went by various names: Molasses Pie, Sorghum Pie, or Cane Syrup Pie, because they were made with regional sweeteners, from molasses and sorghum to pure cane syrup and even Karo syrup.
The name “chess” pie likely comes from the antique British baking term, “cheese”, used to describe creations with a thickened or “curdled” texture, such as lemon curd and rich custards, not just cheese as we use the term today. What we call chess pie gets thickened when eggs, sugar, and butter cook up into that sweet and delicious pie filling we love.
What is Chocolate Chess Pie?
This modern classic pie pairs the Chess Pie essentials (butter, sugar, and eggs) with a square of unsweetened chocolate and a dash of vanilla. It’s chocolate heaven, and it’s super-simple to stir together, even on the busiest day. While standard chess pies go back more than a century, chocolate chess pies are a modern variation, with 20th-century roots.
While some recipes use cocoa, I love melting real chocolate into this filling. That means seriously chocolate flavor and texture. It’s heavenly just as it is; but with a good-sized cloud of barely-sweetened whipped cream on the side, it rises to absolute perfection!
What’s So Easy about Chocolate Chess Pie?
This pie asks only a few things of us bakers: A pastry crust; chocolate and butter melted together and sugar whisked into the mix; eggs beaten with vanilla and salt; ending up with a big mixing-together of those everyday items to make this gorgeous velvety filling. Bake it for around 45 minutes and you are ready to share deliciousness and delight!
Any Special Equipment? Not Here!
So what tools are required? Bowl, measuring spoons and cups, a saucepan, and a whisk or a fork. Oh yes, and one more thing: an oven. That’s it! It’s worth planning for, but if you’re in a time crunch, this is simple yet spectacular. I make it often for both those reasons.
Above is the filling, smooth and rich, ready for the oven. Below is my pie just out of the oven, puffed up like a souffle, crackly and crisp. Within minutes, it settles back down to its brownie-like state, losing a little height but gaining in rich, glorious chocolatey texture, somewhere between brownies and fudge.
What’s with the Puffing Up and Settling Down?
When you make this pie, expect its thick, rich filling to rise up like yeasted dough and even crack and split, depending on your pan, your oven, etc. This is fine, and leaves a pleasing crackly top at serving time. But don’t expect the puffy cloud to last. Heat makes it happen, and as it cools, that drama subsides, with luscious results.
Piecrust Possibilities? Consider a Cookie Crust!
While the classic Chocolate Chess Pie sports a traditional pastry crust, consider a cookie crumb crust as a variation once you’ve got this pie down in your repertoire. It’s unusual, but for a quick version, you can buy a graham cracker crust as well as make one, with tasty results.
If you’re making your own, try gingersnaps or shortbread instead of graham crackers, and consider this. S’more’s are a beloved campfire treat, and if you use graham crackers for a crust, you’re practically in S’more’s country already! Sub whipped cream for the melted marshmallows and call it an indoor campout inspiration!
This pie is rich, so consider serving modest slices and satisfy more people than your average pie would serve. Do use a standard-size pie pan, not a deep-dish, since this is an old-time pie, not a super-sized modern extravaganza.
If you long for a deep-dish version, simply double the recipe and extend the cooking time by a few minutes, until the filling is firm, crackly and dry.
Tips for Easy Baking:
Keep unsweetened chocolate on hand in your baking pantry, and you will never be more than a few minutes away from the rewards of this marvelous deep-flavored pie.
Butter up your freezer:
Buy a few extra boxes of butter when prices are good, and store in the freezer. Transfer wrapped sticks of butter to a sturdy freezer bag, press out air, and seal tightly. Use frozen unsalted butter within 5 to 6 months, and salted butter within a year’s time. This recipe calls for melting the butter, so no need to thaw it, just know it will take a bit longer to melt with the chocolate, but not much!
Play with chocolate:
Melting chocolate for this recipe is easy, because we simply combine unsweetened chocolate with butter and melt them together in a small saucepan directly on the stove. For some recipes, you’ll need more chocolate and more care. Here’s a short video about melting chocolate over simmering water, and a demo of how to shape the cooled chocolate into decorative curls. How to Melt Chocolate and Make Chocolate Curls
Try Chocolate Chess Tarts for an easy-to-serve portable option!
Turn this recipe into small tarts by lining the cups of a mini-muffin pan with pastry, pinching up a small rim for each tart just above the surface of the pan, and filling them a good 3/4 full. They should bake off in 10 minutes or so, depending on your pan and your oven.
Watch for that puffing up and slight cracking, and test the center of a tiny tart — When a knife blade comes out clean, no filling sticking to it, they’re ready to come out of the oven.Let them cool down, dollop with whipped cream if it’s that kind of occasion, and watch them disappear, leaving only smiles.
Chocolate Chess Pie
This recipe comes from the kitchen of Betty Thomason, a fine home cook whose pies and other kitchen creations have been delighting and nourishing her family and friends for many years. This luscious pie traditionally calls for a pastry crust, but I love it in a cookie-crumb crust (graham cracker? chocolate cookie? gingersnap? All great!) too. It keeps well, travels well, serves a crowd and is quickly made.
- 1 unbaked 9-inch piecrust
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick; 4 ounces)
- 1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate
- 1 cup sugar
- Heat oven to 325 degrees F, and then combine the eggs, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl and use a fork to mix everything together well.
- Chop the chocolate into small chunks and cut the butter into 6 or 8 pieces.
- Combine them in a medium saucepan stir them over medium heat until they melt and come together into a smooth sauce, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add the sugar to the pan and stir to dissolve sugar completely.
- Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and stir well with a fork or a whisk to mix everything evenly and well.
- Pour the filling into the piecrust and bake in the 325 degree F oven, until the pie puffs up, the surface cracks, the crust is nicely browned, and the filling is fairly firm all the way through, 35 to 45 minutes.
- Place the pie on a cooling rack or folded kitchen towel and cool to room temperature.
Does the pie need to be refrigerated or can it be stored at room temp?
No, it will be fine at room temperature for a day or two. After that, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 more days; but let it return to room temperature, or reheat it gently (covered with foil loosely, in 250 degree oven), so that it regains its flavor and texture.
Should we prebake the pie crust?
Not necessary to do so. I do not. In my view, it almost never hurts to prebake a crust, as long as you protect the top crust which is exposed to the full heat of the oven both in pre-baking and baking. Foil is good for that job. I usually put it on first and remove it toward the end of baking, since it is tricky to put foil on during baking due to the heat of the pan. So if prebaking is something you don’t mind doing, it ensures that the bottom crust will get done nicely. But I get good results on this pie, either way.
This Chocolate Chess Pie is one of my family’s favorite recipes in Southern Pies. It is absolutely amazing, easy, and bursting with flavor. It doesn’t look fancy, but tastes so wonderful you just want to eat the whole thing. A dollop of fresh whipped cream takes it to the next level. LOVE this recipe!
Thank you SO MUCH, Susan, what a lovely message. That makes me SO happy and proud. You are a Valentine Treat for me. I love this little pie, too, and knowing it brightens other tables is a great gift.
I bought your pie book about 10 years ago on a field trip with my son’s 6th grade class. I have made several of the pies in it but this one is by far the best. Anytime I ask my son (who’s now a senior in college) what would he like me to make for him, 100% of the time, it is THIS pie. I’ve taken it to many family reunions and I’m always told, “This reminds me of when I was a kid,” or, “This tastes just like my mama’s/grandma’s chess pie!” It’s always the first dessert to disappear on buffets. I’ve made it strictly by the recipe as well as substituting 3 TBSP cocoa powder for the squares. It comes out delicious every single time. Thank you for this simple but well-loved recipe!
What a lovely heart-lifting message. I am thrilled and delighted and proud and happy! Thank you for sharing this — it means the world to me.