Chess pie is sweet but not sickeningly so. It is essentially a pantry “chest” pie, in that all the ingredients needed are those usually found lying around the pantry. I have dedicated my version of the chess pie recipe to my beautiful daughter, Jess, a great lover of all things pie. “Jess” also sounds a lot like “chess”, I think.
- half quantity of Vodka pie dough (see Note)
- 4 eggs
- 200 g white sugar
- 20 g brown sugar
- 60 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 1 tbsp cornmeal, also known as polenta (fine not coarse)
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 tsp vanilla bean paste
Vodka pie dough
- 250 g plain flour, plus 160g extra
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 170 g unsalted butter, cubed, cold from the fridge
- 110 g lard, vegetable shortening or butter
- ¼ cup cold water
- ¼ cup vodka, from freezer
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time 1 hour
Chilling time 1 hour
For the vodka pie dough, in a food processor, blend the first batch of flour with sugar, salt, butter and lard until they come together to form a ball.
Add the remaining 160g of flour and blend until the dough seperates into crumbs. Pour the crumbs into a bowl and add the water and vodka at once.
Stir the dough with your finger tips until the mixture comes together and then split into 2 balls and press into flat round discs.
Wrap each disc individually with plastic and allow to rest a minimum of 1 hour in the refrigerator if it is a hot day, or on a bench if it is a cool to cold day.
Cool pastry is easier to work with than warm pastry, but make sure you allow time for the pastry to rest to room temperature to make it easier to roll out.
It can stay in the freezer for a few days, if you wish to make the pastry earlier.
For the chess pie, roll out the pastry on a floured bench into a round shapre, around 0.5 cm thick. Line your pie mould with the vodka pie dough, leaving slight overhang. Crimp or press the edges and place in the freezer uncovered to rest for a minimum of 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 190°C.
Line the mould with high heat plastic wrap, silver foil or baking paper and place pastry weights on the paper to blind bake the dough. Par–bake for about 20 minutes until the edges start to turn golden, then remove the weights and the lining and bake until the base is golden, bordering on dangerously close to being too dark. Remove the pie base from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 170°C.
While the pastry is cooling, prepare the filling. Place the eggs and sugars in an electric mixer and beat until frothy. You can’t over-beat the eggs at this stage, but you can under-beat them, so ensure you beat until you see frothy bubbles on the sides of the bowl.
While still beating the egg mixture, pour in the cooled but not cold melted butter, then add the buttermilk and vinegar. Mix together for a few more seconds, until all combined. Switch off the mixer and add the flour, cornmeal and salt. Starting on a low speed so that the flour doesn’t fly up out of the bowl, begin to combine the mixture. Increase the speed to high when the flour is incorporated then mix until combined with no lumps.
Place the pie mould onto an oven tray. Pour the filling mixture into the mould and place it in the oven.
Bake for 40 minutes before giving the pie the wobble test; turn the pie and if there is a lot of wobble to the mix continue to bake until the pie is just set. Check again after a few minutes and if there is just a slight wobble, turn off the oven or open the door and allow the pie to rest.
Remove the pie after a few minutes and allow to cool until cold. This will take a few hours and the pie will continue to set while it is cooling. Cut and serve when at room temperature.
• The vodka in the dough creates a more tender and flaky crust, as the alcohol does not combine with the proteins in the flour in the same way that water does.
• This makes enough pie dough for two pies - making a half quantity tends to be too fine in the processor. Freeze the other half; it will keep for several months. The pastry is very versatile and can be used for sweet or savoury pies.
Photography by Mark Roper. Styling by Vicki Valsamis. Food preparation by Merryl Batlle.