Chess Pie

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I have a tendency to make unusual word associations, often involving food. Certain words remind me of food and then I have this strange imagery inserted into whatever conversation I’m having. For example, the word “extraordinary” always makes me think of “strawberry.” I’ve found that in conversation, “extraordinary” is often said right before the word “achievement” and then I have this image of a strawberry with a gold star while everyone else is talking about meeting fundraising goals in record time or something of that nature. Strange? Perhaps. Worrying? Never.

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A few weeks ago I was playing an ultimate frisbee tournament with a team named “Occupy Sesame Street.” And as tradition goes, right before we took the field each game we would form a huddle and cheer and generally our cheer would be “Occupy.” The team played a total of 6 games over two days and somewhere around game 3 I started to hear “Occu-PIE.” Every time we broke from our huddle all I could think was, “Mmm, pie.” At one point I even asked the team if they heard it too – everyone kind of looked at me like I had grown a new head and then we all laughed it off and I didn’t mention it again. But all weekend I kept thinking of pie and how I could get some.

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Here’s the problem: I will not buy a slice of pie with mediocre crust. I just can’t do it. So if I want pie I am often forced to make it for myself. I know. My life is just so hard. But I must say, you do an excellent job playing such a small violin.

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I lasted approximately three hours after getting home from the tournament, if you don’t include the time I spent sleeping, before I made myself a pie. I woke up, opened the fridge to find some breakfast, saw a half container of leftover buttermilk, and immediately started thinking about chess pie. Chess pie, for the Yankees among you who have never experienced this Southern delight, is a custard pie flavored with lemon or vinegar. It’s pretty typical in the South but not so common above the Mason-Dixon line and I think it’s time to expose that delicious secret. This is a one bowl pie, not including the crust, and it takes about ten minutes to throw the filling together if you spend five of them looking for the ingredients in the fridge. And the result is delicious – silky delicate custard with just enough sweetness countered by the tang of buttermilk and lemon. This pie is also best served the day it’s baked so invite over a few friends and share it around. Or don’t. I won’t tell.

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Chess Pie
From the Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1 recipe flaky piecrust
1 egg white
3 eggs
1 ½ tsp cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 stick (8 tbs) butter, melted and cooled
2 tsp lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon (approximately 1-2 tbs)
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 425F for at least 20 minutes so that it is uniformly hot. Roll out pie dough and arrange it in the pie pan. Place a piece of parchment or oiled tinfoil on the unbaked shell and fill with pie beans or pie weights.*

Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the beans or weights and lightly prick the crust with a fork, making sure the tines only go halfway through the dough so the filling won’t leak. Continue baking crust for 5-10 minutes until it pale golden brown. Check it halfway through and prick it again if the dough begins to bubble up.

Remove the prebaked crust from the oven and when it has cooled slightly but is still warm, brush it with egg white.** Let crust cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 325F and place an oven rack on the lowest level of the oven. Put a foil lined baking sheet on the rack to preheat with the oven.

In a large bowl, combine egg, cornstarch, and sugar and whisk until well mixed. Beat in buttermilk, alternating with the melted butter, in several parts. Beat in the lemon zest and juice, nutmeg, and salt. Pour the filling into the dough and bake for one hour or until surface is lightly browned and filling is set. The filling will jiggle slightly when moved but will not stick to your finger when lightly pressed. A knife inserted between the crust and filling should come out clean. Serve at room temperature

*I use a half pound of black beans that I keep in a bag clearly marked “pie beans” so that I don’t accidentally try to cook them.
** Egg white will create a shield so that the wet filling won’t make the bottom crust soggy.

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