Old Fashioned Chocolate Chess Pie recipe is a chocolate lover’s dream come true! It is a classic southern dessert with a fudgy, rich chocolate flavored custard in a flaky buttery crust.
In my family dessert comes in one flavor – chocolate. Any sweet that doesn’t fit this essential criteria is shunned into side dish status.
The biggest proponent of always offering a chocolate dessert is my dad. No matter the holiday or occasion, something chocolate must make an appearance to appease him.
With Thanksgiving and holiday baking season upon us, I wanted to share a chocolate chess pie recipe my father would give a huge stamp of approval. Ultra fudgy and creamy, it is certain to make chocolate diehards happy!
What is Chocolate Chess Pie?
Chess pies are an old fashioned, southern dessert made with of butter, eggs, sugar, and milk. These custard pies contain little or no flour with a little cornmeal in the filling.
A couple theories exist on how chess pie got its name. Typically they contain a lot of sugar, which is a natural preservative. For this reason, old fashioned chess pies could be stored in a “pie chest” instead of refrigerated.
Another theory is a plantation cook was asked what smelled so good when it was baking. She replied, in her southern drawl, “Oh, it’s ‘jes pie,” and the name stuck.
Chocolate chess pie recipe ingredients are simple, kitchen staples. Easily mix them together in one bowl, pour into a pie shell, and bake. It’s that easy!
- Cocoa powder – Regular baking powder may be used, but I prefer Dutch Baking Cocoa for more intense chocolate flavor.
- Flour – Only one tablespoon of flour is used for slight thickening. Stir in regular all purpose flour or gluten-free baking flour.
- Cornmeal – Also helps with thickening and gives a great course texture on top of the creamy custard.
- Milk – Use one small can of evaporated milk. Buttermilk or whole milk may be used in its place
- Eggs – Binds the ingredients together and gives the pie structure
- Unsalted Butter – Softened butter is preferred to homogeneously blend with the other ingredients.
How to Make Chocolate Chess Pie recipe
- Preheat oven to 425°F and adjust oven rack to lowest position. Roll pie crust dough and fit into a 9 inch pie dish. Refrigerate and chill for 15 minutes.
- Line the bottom of the crust with foil or parchment paper. Place pie weights or dried beans on top of liner.
- Bake on the bottom rack for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake 4 minutes longer. Remove the liner and weights and bake 3-4 minutes longer. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add softened butter, large eggs, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract to the bowl. Use a mixer to beat until well combined.
- Pour filling mixture into prebaked pie crust and bake on the lowest rack for 55-60 minutes. The top layer will be firm with a slight jiggle underneath. Place on a wire rack to cool about 1-2 hours before slicing and serving with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Chocolate Chess Pie without Evaporated Milk
Some recipes do not use evaporated milk, such as Serious Eat’ chess pie recipe. If you prefer a pie without evaporated milk use buttermilk or whole milk in its place.
Bakers use evaporated milk to reduce cooking times. Canned evaporated milk has been heated to remove water content. Therefore, less baking time is needed to evaporate the liquid.
Best pie crust to use
Make this chocolate pie recipe with homemade, store bought refrigerated or frozen crusts. To make this pie gluten-free, I used my favorite gluten-free pie crust recipe.
Some recipes pour the filling into an unbaked pie shell to bake. Typically those recipes set the oven to 350ºF and bake for a shorter time, like 45 minutes.
I prefer to bake custard pies at a lower temperature for longer. This prevents the filling from curdling or cracking.
However, low temperatures also prevent the bottom crust from getting crisp. Pre-baking, also known as par baking, helps achieve a crisp, golden, crisp bottom crust.
frequently asked questions
Traditionally chocolate chess pie uses melted butter for the filling, but this recipe uses softened butter. Why?
Chess pie lacks ingredients that will absorb liquid butter. Since the ingredients are primarily eggs, sugar, and milk, using softened butter helps build structure.
Also, softened butter blends with the filling more homogeneously instead of separating. Use a handheld mixer to thoroughly blend the butter with ingredients smoothly.
Most recipes instruct to pull the pie when it is “slightly jiggly in the center,” but what does that mean exactly?
The top layer will be firm and set. Underneath, the pie filling will have a slight jiggle, but shouldn’t be sloshy. For best results, insert a toothpick in the center to make sure custard filling has set.
You may also use an instant read thermometer to check if the pie has finished cooking. (Thermoworks MK4 is my all time favorite!) The Kitchn recommends the filling to be a temperature of 200ºF (93ºC). Take the temperature in the center of the pie.
Place baked pie on a wire rack to cool 1-2 hours before slicing and serving. It needs plenty of time to set up before slicing. However, if you fear the pie will not slice well, let it cool completely, and refrigerate it for 1-2 hours.
It does not need to be refrigerated, simply store at room temperature up to 3 days.
This recipe may also be frozen after baking. To prevent a soggy bottom crust after thawing, bake at 375ºF on the bottom rack for 15-20 minutes. Use a pie shield or aluminum foil to protect the exposed crust from becoming overly brown.
For easiest slicing, make sure the pie has completely cooled first for the custard to set up. It is very rich and fudgy, so whipped cream or vanilla ice cream pairs perfectly with it!
Yes and it’s best if you bake it in advance! If serving for a holiday meal, bake 1-2 days ahead of time and leave it at room temperature or refrigerate it after it cools. Refrigerating the pie will make the filling more solid, more like brownies.
More Pie Recipes
- No Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Pie – A creamy no bake cheesecake in graham cracker crust, topped with fresh strawberries, and a glossy gelatin glaze.
- Fresh Blueberry Pie – Easy blueberry pie recipe using fresh blueberries over a creamy layer of sweet buttermilk custard filling.
- Sugar Cream Pie – Sugar Cream Pie is filled with a gloriously thick, creamy, vanilla custard, sprinkled with a dusting of cinnamon, and made with a handful of simple ingredients and easy steps.
- Concord Grape Pie – Grape pie with streusel topping has step-by-step instructions full of tips and tricks for making homemade grape pie filling.
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Chocolate Chess Pie
- 1 pie crust, homemade or store bought
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour or gluten free all purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup butter, softened
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 5 ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 425°F and adjust oven rack to lowest position. Roll pie crust and fit into a 9 inch pie plate. Refrigerate and chill for 15 minutes.
- Line the bottom of the crust with foil or parchment paper. Place pie weights or dried beans on top of liner. Bake on the bottom rack for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake 4 minutes longer. Remove the liner and weights and bake 3-4 minutes longer. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add softened butter, eggs, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract to the bowl. Use a mixer to beat until well combined.
- Pour filling into prebaked pie crust and bake at 325°F on the lowest rack for 55-60 minutes. The top layer should be set and underneath will have a slight jiggle, but not a liquidy one. Insert a toothpick to make sure it isn't liquidy. Place on a wire rack to cool 1-2 hours before slicing and serving. Either serve at room temperature or chill.
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Storing Chess Pie Chess pie does not need to be refrigerated. Store at room temperature up to 3 days. For a chilled custard pie, refrigerate after cooling. Chess pie may also be frozen after baking. To prevent a soggy bottom crust after thawing, bake at 375ºF on the bottom rack for 15-20 minutes. Use a pie shield or aluminum foil to protect the exposed crust from becoming overly brown.