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Brown Butter Chess Pie

This easy Chess Pie recipe is made with brown butter, which adds a nutty, caramelized flavor that elevates this classic pie to new heights!

If you love chess pie as much as I do, try this Chocolate Chess Pie or this Coconut Chess Pie.

overhead view of slices of Brown Butter Chess Pie on red floral-rimmed white plates

Homemade Chess Pie with Brown Butter

Chess pie has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. My grandmother always made it for family gatherings, so for me, chess pie is more than just a dessert. It’s downhome nostalgia in a way that only old-fashioned pies made from scratch can be.

As an adult, I now appreciate not only the amazing flavor of a good chess pie but also the simplicity of it. At a glance, the ingredient list isn’t really that interesting. There are no big flavor elements that stand out as obvious winners. Rather, it’s simply a list of baking pantry staples. How great is it to get such a fantastic dessert out of a handful of standard ingredients that you probably have already? I bet these components are sitting in your pantry right now, begging to be made into chess pie.

What’s in Chess Pie?

Here’s a quick summary of what you’ll need to make chess pie. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card below for specific amounts.

For the Crust

  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Salt
  • Unsalted butter – Cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cold water

For the Custard Filling

  • Unsalted butter
  • Eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Light brown sugar – Make sure you pack it firmly when measuring or measure it by weight.
  • Milk
  • Vanilla extract
  • Cornmeal
  • Salt
overhead view of two slices of Brown Butter Chess Pie on red floral-rimmed white plates

Why is it Called Chess Pie?

It’s hard to say how true this story is, but according to an urban legend, this pie got its name when a cook on a Southern Plantation was asked what kind of pie she was making. “Jes pie,” she replied. But she had such a heavy accent that it sounded like she said “chess pie.”

Another story claims the name comes from the way these pies were stored. They were so sweet that they did not need to be refrigerated, so they were stored in a “pie chest,” and hence known as “chest pie.” Here again, a Southern accent comes into play and “chest pie” could sometimes sound like “chess pie,” depending on who was saying it.

What’s the Difference Between Chess Pie and Custard Pie?

The main difference is that chess pie usually has a bit of cornmeal added to the custard filling. So in other words, a chess pie is a kind of custard pie that has cornmeal in the filling.

overhead view of a slice of Brown Butter Chess Pie in a pie plate

Why Do I Brown the Butter in my Recipe?

My go-to recipe for Chess Pie is my grandmother’s recipe that I’ve tweaked here and there over the years. I did a spiced version in Quick-Shop-&-Prep 5 Ingredient Baking, but for a while I’ve wanted to do a variation with one simple change – browned butter.

I subscribe to the notion that if you’re going to melt butter, you may as well brown it. Browning butter adds such an amazingly rich, nutty flavor that I find it hard to resist. To make that alteration with this recipe, I simply increased the butter to allow for the water loss that comes from browning and substituted a little brown sugar for some of the granulated sugar. Otherwise, this is my traditional Chess Pie recipe.

Tips for Success

One little quirk of these pies, at least in my experience, is that the thin layer that forms on top of the pie tends to crack in a few spots. Honestly, it doesn’t really bother me because that’s just how they’ve always looked to me. If it should bother you, a little whipped cream can fix any cosmetic issues. Regardless, you’ll enjoy every bite of this simple, sweet pie.

How to Store

Even though these pies may not have been refrigerated in days past, I do recommend refrigerating this pie. Let it come to room temperature, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. It will keep for 3-4 days. I don’t recommend freezing this pie because the custard can get a grainy texture after it has been frozen and thawed.

Visit the Recipe Index for more pie recipes!

Brown Butter Chess Pie

Yield 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour

Rich, nutty brown butter adds a new flavor dimension to a classic dessert!

slices of Brown Butter Chess Pie

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 & 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

To make the crust:

  1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal and the butter is the size of small peas.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of water and continue mixing. Add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a dough forms.
  3. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If necessary, let it sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes until slightly softened but still cold.
  5. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough into a circle about 1/8-inch thick.
  6. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Trim and crimp the edges as desired. Place the pie plate in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

To make the filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Place the butter in a medium saucepan or skillet. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and begins to foam.
  3. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until brown specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan and the butter has a nutty aroma. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. If desired, strain the butter to remove some or all of the browned bits.
  4. Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl, and beat lightly. Add the cooled butter, sugar, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla, and stir until combined. Stir in the cornmeal and salt.
  5. Transfer the filling to the pie crust. Place the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any spills. Bake 55 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the filling is set.

More Chess Pie Recipes

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    5 Comments on “Brown Butter Chess Pie”

  1. A woman after my own heart! I grew up in the South and like you saw chess pies at every gathering. Lemon was my favorite. I never knew what was so special about them until years later when I learned they had cornmeal. Not that common in most baking it was the texture that made those pies unique. If I remember right browned butter was what led me to your site in the first place…and I love every recipe you do that has browned butter. I totally agree that melting it just a bit more for the extra flavor sounds right and perfect. Can’t wait to share this one! Thanks, Jennifer.

  2. Jennifer, I can’t wait to try this recipe! Chess pie is my mom’s favorite and she makes one for herself every year on her birthday :0) It really is such a unique pie, but completely unforgettable!

  3. I definitely had never heard of chess pie until I lived in the south. Gotta try it with brown sugar that sounds great!

  4. Even tho there are lots of chess pies my grandma made them all, we called this one my fav brown sugar chess not many people make these. Glad you reminded me. Think I will make one,lol

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