I’ll just start with a disclaimer, Chess pie, traditional vanilla Chess pie, is my favorite pie. My second favorite pie is Lemon Chess pie. They are similar, but there is one key difference, the crust. Not the bottom crust, it’s a one pastry pie, but the top crust. The crust the pie itself makes. In the world of food one cannot help but pull ideas from historic recipes as the base for creating something new, the next ‘in’ thing. In the case of the Blueberry Buttermilk Chess pie recipe I saw from Bon Appetite, (www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry–buttermilk–chess–pie) two pies were blended to create this new variation (version?) can’t decide…..Chess and Buttermilk. Yes, these are two delicious pies but very different.
It’s not the first time this has happened to Chess pie. A couple of years ago I saw in a popular free parents magazine a recipe for Chocolate Chess pie. A variation of a historic chocolate tart. Needless to say I didn’t go there. I love me some deep, dark luscious chocolate, but please note: chocolate in pastry/dessert form is not on my list. (except for an occasional scope of “Really Good Chocolate” ice cream from the Blue Pig, http://www.thebluepigicecream.com) but I digress. I looked at the recipe for a couple of weeks before actually making it. The photo looked interesting, but something about it just didn’t sit well. Then came the need for buttermilk in another recipe, and the remaining half bottle was there so off I went.
Going in the plan is always to do what the recipe says, but the burnt fluting on the pie in the photo accompanying the recipe was a real turnoff. The creator prebaked the crust, then baked the pie for an additional 50-60 minutes without putting on a protective edge, resulting in a beautiful black edge. Nice touch, but not a nice taste. Forgo prebaking, and butter the bottom of your pie plate, also keep the crust fairly thin which is the tradition with this pie. Elegance. Chess pie is very rich so one rarely serves large portions although consuming repeated portions is quite common. Other than that, the pie went into to the oven as requested. The one error I did make was perhaps cooking it about 10 minutes to long. She did request removing it while the center still jiggled a bit. But it looked beautiful. But it was not a Chess pie. Or was it?
What makes a Chess pie or what makes a pie ‘chess’? The addition of corn meal in a Chess pie recipe results in a top crust. It’s the only recipe I know for a pie that does that. When you use an acid like lemon, the crust forms, but it isn’t crunchy like a vanilla one. And if you beat the pie with an electric mixer and not by hand, it won’t form the crunchy crust at all. It will be a smooth brown top, like the lemon one. A recipe created before electricity, well worth the effort in my opinion, even when you’re making more than one at a time. With the Blueberry pie, the corn meal did help the berries create a crust, one that could replace the smooth brown one, okay…but it was the custard center that smacked of wrongness to me. It was a nice pie, and several people in my life really enjoyed it, but for me it missed the mark. Why?
Studying the recipe while enjoying what I’ll now call the Blueberry Buttermilk Custard pie, the proportion of eggs to sugar plus the weight of the amount of buttermilk made it a firmer center, a milk laced custard not the custard of any Chess pie I’ve ever eaten. That’s the thing, they are custard pies. In most custard pies the milk or cream is what you notice (I notice) first. But in Chess pie, it is the eggs, sugar, butter mix that is center stage. Most traditional Chess pie recipes have only about a quarter of a cup of milk or so. Not very much at all. The resulting custard is rich, not creamy, but luscious. The better the eggs and butter, the more luscious it is. But then there is that crust.
The Blueberry pie is a nice idea. I think I’ll tinder with the recipe a bit, could be a touch sweeter, and perhaps a little vanilla in the custard would work too. However, my printout will get a new title, I’ll enjoy having a recipe for a Blueberry Buttermilk Custard pie, but Chess pie it is not.