this is one of my favorite secret weapons (well, as much as one can expect from a pie as a weapon) when it comes to dessert. it doesn't get much more southern than chess pie. go anywhere in the south from potlucks, meat & threes (another southern staple), country markets to any place that sells desserts and you will most likely encounter a chess pie. they are an intriguing combination of butter, eggs and sugar-lots of sugar. always bordering on the edge of a diabetic coma, the combination is usually a little creamy and if made well, it brings even the most crotchety of folks back to their childhood and before you know it, you are listening to endless stories of mama and her chess pies. unfortunately, most of them are just sweet and a little crumbly-not very appetizing or worth the extra roll in your middle. but, as the pastry chef of a restaurant that is a southern dining destination-i had no choice but to include chess pies in the line up. as a yankee pastry chef, i was at a loss for a good recipe. i asked around but no one was willing to give up mama's best chess pie recipe.
my salvation came when a coworker handed me a copy of edna lewis and scott peacocks book, the gift of southern cooking. in that book i found a recipe for lemon chess pie and so began my education of what a good chess pie is. for one, while it is sweet, it should have a creamy texture and a balanced flavor. i was soon the proud owner of a good plain ol' chess pie recipe.
not too long after that, i had a minor epiphany in the form of honey. while measuring some wildflower honey, i was taken in by the aroma which led to my tasting it. first of all, let's get this straight, i am not a big fan of honey-too sweet, sometimes a little bitter, just not my choice of sweeteners. so when i tasted this local wild flower honey-wow!!! is all i can say. it was produced by a menonite community in kentucky and the complex flavor was amazing. i gave it some thought and knew i needed to come up with a pie recipe to showcase that honey. the light bulb went off and honey chess pie was born. since honey is the predominant flavor, use a true wildflower honey and make sure it is a brand that does not filter or process the honey-that changes the flavor and can make it bitter tasting. as a beekeeper, i suggest you look for a local beekeepers association and purchase honey from their members. what difference does it make? small scale beekeepers are not likely to mix their honey with corn syrup, remove the pollen, pasteurize it or subject it to any other undesirable process. and one more thing, if a honey producer claims to be organic-put the bottle back on the shelf. do you really think you can tell a bee to only gather honey from organic flowers? bees can fly as far as 8 miles in one trip-they go where they want to go. a bee will produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime which lasts about 6 weeks. a healthy colony will have 40,000-50,000 bees in it. be sure to give the girls some respect and then make this pie and savor every honey packed spoonful!
honey chess pie
1 (9") pie serving 8-10
straight out of my book-desserts from the famous loveless cafe
1 (9") pie shell, partially baked
3/4 cup wildflower honey
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons cornmeal-preferably white
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy cream
preheat the oven to 350. place the pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet and set aside. place the honey, brown sugar, butter, cornmeal, flour, vanilla and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. pulse until the mixture is smooth. with the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time, processing until blended and scraping the bowl after each addition. with the machine on, add the lemon juice and then the heavy cream through the feed tube. scrape the filling into the pie shell. bake in the center of the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the edges puff up slightly and the center is firm. let cool completely before serving. pie will be easier to slice if it is cold, use a hot and wet knife-clean it between cuts. however, it tastes best if closer to room temp so let it stand out at room temp after cutting.
and there you have it. bake one, send me a photo and see it here. firstname.lastname@example.org