Monday, February 8, 2010

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Chess Pie

Often referred to as a pantry pie because it can be made from pantry basics, chess pie is an old fashioned, southern favorite. I like to cut the sweetness of my chess pie with just a bit of buttermilk instead of sweet milk and fresh lemon juice and zest, instead of vinegar.

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Chess Pie

Old Fashioned Chess Pie is southern to the core. And sweet. A very sweet custard pie made with eggs, butter, a little flour, a bit of cornmeal, vanilla and sugar. Lots of sugar.  While not many folks include buttermilk in their chess pie recipe as I do, I happen to think that it only improves on the flavor of the chess pie. The tartness of the buttermilk helps to cut the sugary sweetness and makes for a simply perfect chess pie.

I have to admit - while I do love sweet things, plain chess pie and brown sugar pies have never been my favorite pies. A brown sugar pie is so sweet, that it literally locks my jaw up, I swear. As far as chess pie, while I do like it better, I also find that it absolutely needs something to counteract the sweetness. So for me, chess pie needs either the bitterness of cocoa or unsweetened chocolate or else the tartness of lemon just to balance out the sweetness.  To do that, I put just a squeeze of lemon juice along with the zest of a lemon in my regular chess pie.  It is not enough lemon to turn it into a Lemon Chess Pie, but just enough to counter the sugar.  In my opinion don't leave the lemon out, unless you have one heck of a high tolerance for sugar.

This pie really calls to be served with some very strong coffee, perhaps a Cafe au Lait made with a good Louisiana chicory coffee, to help balance the sweetness. I like mine with just a dollop of homemade whipped cream and a light grating of nutmeg over the top.

Here's how to make it.

Recipe: Old Fashioned Buttermilk Chess Pie

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 35 min | Yield: About 8 servings

  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 rounded tablespoon of cornmeal
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of all purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup of butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup of buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • Zest from one lemon, chopped fine
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • 1 unbaked pie shell, homemade or commercial (Pillsbury recommended)
  • Homemade whipped cream
  • Freshly grated nutmeg

Prebake the pie shell if desired, according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the sugar, cornmeal, flour and salt. To that add the butter, buttermilk, and vanilla; mix. Beat the eggs, add and mix. Stir in lemon zest and juice. Place pie crust into a 9 inch pie plate and pour mixture into the pie shell.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and set. Use a pie shield (or aluminum foil) on the edges after about 20 minutes to prevent crust from overbrowning. Can also tent entire pie with aluminum foil if the top of the pie itself is overbrowning.

Let cool completely on a rack. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a grating of fresh nutmeg on top.

Cook's Notes: For a classic chess pie, increase sugar to 2 cups, increase cornmeal to 2 tablespoons, omit the buttermilk and replace it with 1/4 cup of milk, omit the lemon juice & zest, and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar. All other ingredients are the same. For a chocolate version click here.

For a traditional buttermilk pie, eliminate the cornmeal, reduce eggs to 3 and separate them - you'll beat the egg whites separate and fold those into the filling before putting it into the pie shell. Increase the buttermilk to 1-1/2 cups - everything else stays the same, except you fold in those beaten eggs whites at the end, then turn the filling into pie shell. Bake in the middle of the oven at 325 degrees for 1 hour (instead of the 350 degrees).


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©Deep South Dish
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Posted by on February 8, 2010

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  1. I love chess pie, buttermilk pie, egg custard pie, I love PIE!

  2. I love chess pies. I've never met one that was too sweet for me!

  3. I love chess pie. Why, you'd think I was from the South the way I love all these yummy recipes. Bring 'em on! YUMMY!

  4. I love chess pie Mary and your looks delicious. Save me a piece. Ü

  5. Oh man, that does look delicious!

  6. i have never heard of this it looks and sounds terrific

  7. My mom and her mom always made the best chocolate chess pies. Unfortunately I was never a big sweets eater.

  8. I've never even heard of chess pie and I have to say I'm a little upset now that I know what one is. How can I not make that and eat half of it in one sitting and then cry the next day that I'm still in my maternity pants?

    I just met, fell in love, and broke up with chess pie. I'll let you know how I like it.

  9. @Jeanette you are my kinda gal!
    @Pam you're so sweet I'm not surprised!
    @Beverooni you are knighted a southerner in my book!
    @Tina, got you one right here!!
    @Julie, aw, thanks!
    @Chef, thank you so much! Thanks quite an honor.
    @Dave, I'm surprised at that!
    @Chris, I love the chocolate the most too - it's the right mix IMHO
    @Eclipsed - you are adorable. If y'all get back together let me know what you think! ;)

  10. I've never had this before. It looks delicious!

  11. I just recently made my first Chess pie (after having a great one in the hospital! LOL) and I ran into a problem with the egg settling down at the bottom of the pie - very off-putting. Do you have any suggestions on how to remedy this?


  12. Hi KC - I am assuming you were using another recipe and not this one? Hard to say really. Couple things come to mind - fresher eggs for sure, and let the eggs come to room temperature so they aren't too cold. Beat the eggs first before they are added into the other ingredients - it should be very smooth when it goes into the pie shell, and don't overcook - that can cause some separation to occur. Sorry I can't help more. Good luck!

  13. I was given another recipe but I will be using yours next time! That makes sense, I will definitely try those tricks the next time. Thank you!!

  14. You are very welcome! Thanks so much for being a reader.

  15. This was a fantastic recipe for chess pie! This was my first time trying. Came out perfect! My coworkers loved it. Next time I will put in a deep dish crust. Only change. Thanks!

  16. Thanks so much for taking the time to come back and leave a comment! Glad y'all enjoyed the pie.

  17. I made this today and it is wonderful. After I started, I realized that I was out of lemons, so I substituted a half an orange instead, and it turned out delicious!

  18. Hi Mary Alice - good to know about the orange! Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for taking the time to come back and say so!!

  19. Oh my goodness, I was craving something like this and found your recipe. It was so easy to make and is amazing! So light and fluffy, it's like tasting a fluffy lemon cloud! Thank you for sharing!

  20. Oh my goodness I was craving something like this and came across your recipe. It was amazingly simple to put together and I had all the ingredients on hand. What a snap! It's like tasting a light fluffy lemon cloud!!! Thanks for posting it.

  21. I add 1/2c cocoa and 1 extra egg when I want chocolate chess pie.

  22. I love me some buttermilk and chess pie, but have to say never thought to combine them. Genius! This is go on my to make list right now.

    1. Please let me know what you think Vikki!

  23. Chess pie and persimmon pudding are two of my favorites.

  24. Mary, I'm using a frozen pie crust. Does this have enough filling for a deep dish crust?

    1. I make this in a standard pie plate, so it'll be a bit short for a deep dish.

  25. I made 2 chess pies today, but not with this recipe. I don't think lemon would be good, but Im not sure about the buttermilk.
    Here is another recipe that you may enjoy.
    Chess pie:
    4 ounces of butter
    1/2 cup of brown sugar
    3 large eggs
    1 tablespoon vinegar
    2 tablespoons vanilla
    1 tablespoon cornmeal
    This is a great recipe and its really good!

    1. Oh the lemon is amazing - all it does is stand in for the vinegar to cut the sweet a bit, but it has more flavor! The buttermilk adds some additional flavor and tartness too. It's really a cross between a buttermilk and chess pie. Delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipe with us too though - sounds excellent!

  26. Hi! I want to make this TODAY but don't have lemons on hand but have some "lemon juice" about how much would I substitute for the half lemon and zest? Thanks!

    1. So sorry I didn't catch this question earlier - I was busy with grandbabies! From one medium lemon you should get about 1 teaspoon zest and about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, so for this recipe the full zest but only 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.

  27. Hi! This sounds delicious! I want to try this today but I would like to ask a question first please. What is the difference in taste and texture of the filling when using the cornmeal compare to the taste and texture of the filling when you leave it out? Thank you!!

    1. It's not that much, but the cornmeal adds a little body & the buttermilk pie without it is just a bit more loose, like a custard.

  28. The pie is very good i been making this pie for over 3 years and it is spot on good. But i do have to bake my pie for about an hour and a half i don't know why but it comes out great and creamy

    1. Oh wow, that is a lot longer! I guess I'll need to make one and see if I need to make any adjustments in the time now!! :)

    2. please let me know what you find thanks


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