Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crack Pie

Recently, a friend mentioned that she had eaten a heavenly slice of crack pie.


Crack Pie?


Creamy and silky, rich and intense, buttery and super sweet, and topped with a big dose of crack.

That would be the top of the pie that often CRACKS during baking. Or perhaps it is because this pie is as addictive as CRACK?

I've had it at the Momofuku Bakery, the same place my friend tried it. Yes, crack pie is good. Very good. And yes, crack pie is addictive.

But Crack Pie is simply a riff on that Southern classic, Chess Pie which is probably one of the most basic pies in the pie universe, and a very old recipe indeed. And like most old folkloric things, the name Chess Pie is highly debated.

According to this website, The original cook book diva and the original "Martha," Martha Washington, wife of that president dude, documented the pie in the mid-1700s in her classic cook book, Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery. Here is Martha's recipe, spelled out in all its convoluted old fashioned early American English language glory:

To make very good chee[secakes without] cheese curd
Take a quart of cream, & when it boyles take 14 eggs; If they be very yallow take out 2 or 3 of the youlks; put them into [the] cream when it boyles & keep it with continuall stirring till it be thick like curd. [Then] put into it sugar & currans, of each halfe a pound; ye currans must first be plumpt in faire water; then take a pound of butter & put into the curd a quarter of [that] butter; [then] take a quart of fine flowre, & put [the] resto of [the] butter to it in little bits, with 4 or 5 spoonsfulls of faire water, make [the] paste of it & when it is well mingled beat it on a table & soe roule it out.. Then put [the] curd into [the] paste, first putting therein 2 nutmeggs slyced, a little salt, & a little rosewater; [the] eggs must be well beaten before you put them in; & for [your] paste you may make them up into what fashion you please..

But unlike the mind teaser directions above, the Chess Pie is actually super simple to make: butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, a wee bit of corn meal flour, and either heavy cream, buttermilk or milk depending on the cook's signature. Some add a bit of vinegar as well. The fancy bakery in New York City that calls it CRACK PIE sometimes dusts theirs with powdered sugar, but you can do as you wish.

Some folks add vanilla to theirs, some add chocolate or fruits like pineapple or coconut. My mother makes hers with lemon, another classic Southern version. In fact, my mother's lemon chess pie is so lemony it makes my mouth pucker. I'm certain there are other variations on a theme out there though, such as coffee, liquor flavors or who knows what else. There is even a version called polka dot chess pie that contains raisins and chopped nuts.

Me? I just like plain old chess pie.

So here is a much more modern, and much easier to follow recipe for Crack (aka Chess) Pie. The two things to remember? 1. the more you mix the filling, the more of a chance the pie will crack on top. 2. Do not over bake. Just like Pecan Pie (which is really a riff on chess pie with the addition of pecans), when a knife inserted into the center just comes out clean, the pie is done baking.


1 9" unbaked pie shell
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fine cornmeal
5 eggs
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 cup melted butter


Combine granulated sugar, light brown sugar, and corn meal.

Beat in eggs one at a time.

Stir in whipping cream, cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and melted butter.

Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake on middle rack at 400 F for 10 minutes. (this helps create the CRACK)

Lower heat to 325 F and continue baking for 45 minutes more.


Anonymous said...

Oh lord. I'm gonna have to bring my chess pie recipe to the pie off this year. Although I've grown up with the name "Buttermilk Pie" because buttermilk is one of the main ingredients. Whatever you call it, it truly is an addictive substance.

Lizzy Caston said...

Thanks Tricia. Since we are both Carolinians, we know Chess Pie - buttermilk pie, vinegar pie, whatever you want to call it.

I haven't made one in several years, but I'm making two tonight.

LeLo said...

I really want to say out loud, "I've brought you a crack pie!"

Thanks for this fantastic information.

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Calico said...

Crack Pie sounds more like a variation of Transparent Pie than Chess Pie. All of these pies are wonderful!

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chess foodie belle said...

Hi, I'm sorry but the recipe you have is not really chess pie. Chess pie shouldn't have any brown sugar because that would make it taste like pecan pie. Chess pie isn't supposed to taste like pecan pie filling. There should not be ANY cream, and there should not be ANY buttermilk (that would make it like buttermilk pie....which I think is inferior to chess pie). And most importantly, it HAS TO HAVE CORNMEAL AND WHITE VINEGAR. And no flour!

Sugar (white granulated)
Pinch of salt
Pie crust

I'm from the deep south, and I am obsessed with chess pie. So is my extended family. I assure you that this is the proper way to make it. Adding anything else turns it into a different pie IMO.