Chocolate Walnut Chess Pie

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
— Carl Sagan (as found on Hoosiermamapie.com)
Chocolate Walnut Chess-Adjacent Pie served with garden fresh Turkish figs - ProvinceJournal.com

Chocolate Walnut Chess-Adjacent Pie served with garden fresh Turkish figs - ProvinceJournal.com

In 2010 we moved from Detroit to Chicago during the height of the cupcake craze. Sprinkles was everything to everybody. We certainly ate our fair share of the Beverly Hills phenom, but soon came to realize that Chicago was and always will be a pie town. Pizza pie goes without saying, but Chi-town also has the best sweet pies north of the Mason-Dixon. Much in part due to the arrival of Hoosier Mama Pie Company.

We lived in Wicker Park, close to Hoosier Mama's flagship location in Ukrainian Village. It's a tiny bustling bakery decked out in vintage Americana charm. It's the kind of place you take your out-of-town guests while thinking to yourself, "You have no idea what you're in for."

And what they're in for is "chess" pie. Sure Hoosier Mama excels at the standard American pie playbook—apple pie, blueberry pie, banana cream pie—but it's their Southern (by way of England) chess pies that will have you calling your mama in tears. 

While living in Chicago it seemed pointless to learn how to bake my own chocolate chess pie. Hoosier Mama was only 5 minutes away and chef Paula Haney's pies made my feeble attempts at baking look like sugar coated stupid. Now that I'm in Los Angeles—2000 miles to the nearest Chicago—I've been craving a slice of her chocolate chess pie.

And from this distance I must atone. I owe an apology and explanation to Hoosier Mama herself. Paula, if by some slim chance you're reading this, I am sorry for what transpired on the week of September 12th, 2011.

You see, about two weeks prior I stopped in to Hoosier Mama to buy a chocolate chess pie to bring to my family in Michigan. I chatted briefly with Paula about bringing that pie back home to Michigan's Upper Peninsula (locally referred to as the "U.P.")

"You're a Yooper?" Paula asked, summoning the colloquial slang for residents of the Upper Peninsula. "Can you bring me back a really good U.P. pasty?"

A U.P. pasty (pronounced (PASS-tee) is Michigan's version of Cornwall, England's version of Italy's calzone or Spain's empanada. It's a large crusty hand pie traditionally filled with beef, potatoes, turnip or rutabaga, and onions. It's a mainstay of my hometown and nowhere else in America can you get something quite like it. Others have tried, of course. But only ours are so infamous that we've been featured in national news outlets like NPR, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and others.

That's a lot of pressure! So two weeks later I made the 7 hour drive back from the U.P. to Chicago with a few Lawry's pasties in a cooler; bursting with anticipation to hand deliver our cultural claim to fame to Paula. The baking icon would be so impressed. Little ol' me bringing her the best U.P. pasties, frozen to survive the journey and ready to bake in her professional kitchen.

Wait, what? Back up. Did you say frozen?

Well, duh, how else would a pasty survive the two days until I would see Paula?

So the day after my return trip I walked into Hoosier Mama, heart pounding like a fanboy at a Britney Spears concert. (That reference comes easy, trust me.) I walked up to the counter and asked if Paula was available. I knew she was. I'd already seen the flash of her pink chef's jacket among the ballet of bakers twirling their stainless steel mixing bowls and using their origami sorcery to turn flat cardboard into pie boxes.

"Hi Paula, they just put your pasties in the freezer back there. All you have to do is bake them for 45 minutes."

"Oh, their frozen?" she asked politely, the disappointment palpable.

"Yeah, 'cause it's a long drive from the U.P. They're parbaked so they're still really good frozen" I explained. No, actually I pleaded. All I wanted was your love and approval, Paula!

She, of course, thanked me for the pasties and very sweetly gave me a few free slices of pie. She was no doubt grateful, yet I could tell she'd wanted to try the very best and freshest U.P. pasty. Who could blame her? She's one of the best bakers in one of the biggest cities in America. I mean, she wrote a damn cookbook! She's managed to make a vinegar pie taste incredible!

Gah. Dumb dumb dumb. What was I thinking?

Anyway, in honor of you Paula-who-is-probably-not-reading-this, I made my first chess pie. Actually, it's chess-adjacent, but it's delicious and didn't fall apart so it's still a major victory in this kitchen. And I'm sorry if I disappointed you with my pasty delivery and I hope you enjoyed them nonetheless.

I've gone on long enough so I won't bore you with the history of why a chess pie is called a chess pie. Suffice to say the texture and density of a chocolate chess pie falls somewhere between a brownie, a custard pie, and a pecan pie.

Because there aren't a lot of ingredients, good quality ingredients should be used to bring out the best flavor. My recipe isn't heavy on sugar so it doesn't use sweetness to mask a nasty cheap cocoa like Hershey's. It uses super delicious cultured vegan butter, farm fresh eggs, and organic yogurt. At Hoosier Mama they don't use yogurt, I believe they use chopped bittersweet chocolate, and they use cornmeal instead of flour. Hence the recipe below is chess-adjacent and not exactly a true chess pie. It's a simple homey tasting pie that has a great texture and doesn't clobber you with sugar or other trickery.

Chop walnuts based on your texture preference. A fine chop will make a smoother pie.

Chop walnuts based on your texture preference. A fine chop will make a smoother pie.

I try to use vegan options when I can and I'm thrilled that Trader Joe's is now selling Miyoko's Cultured VeganButter. This stuff has a surprisingly complex natural butter flavor and perfect consistency. Because I don't keep milk on hand, I used organic yogurt that I'd purchased to give our hens a boost of probiotics. They go crazy for unsweetened plain yogurt.

I try to use vegan options when I can and I'm thrilled that Trader Joe's is now selling Miyoko's Cultured VeganButter. This stuff has a surprisingly complex natural butter flavor and perfect consistency. Because I don't keep milk on hand, I used organic yogurt that I'd purchased to give our hens a boost of probiotics. They go crazy for unsweetened plain yogurt.

After chocolate mixture is heated, slowly whisk into the eggs to temper the eggs and create a smooth custard.

After chocolate mixture is heated, slowly whisk into the eggs to temper the eggs and create a smooth custard.

Pour completed batter into a standard depth pie shell. I cheated and used a pre-made pie shell that I happened to have on hand. Later the same day I made a vegetable pot pie from scratch using Ina Garten's Perfect Pie Crust recipe. Of course, one could always buy the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie to find a great crust recipe, not to mention a true chess pie recipe.

Pour completed batter into a standard depth pie shell. I cheated and used a pre-made pie shell that I happened to have on hand. Later the same day I made a vegetable pot pie from scratch using Ina Garten's Perfect Pie Crust recipe. Of course, one could always buy the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie to find a great crust recipe, not to mention a true chess pie recipe.

If you have trouble with pie crusts getting too dark before the pie is done, simply wrap the edges in aluminum foil and remove it 20 minutes before taking out of the oven.

If you have trouble with pie crusts getting too dark before the pie is done, simply wrap the edges in aluminum foil and remove it 20 minutes before taking out of the oven.

After 60 minutes of baking, give or take, the center should be slightly firm to the touch. Cracks will start to form on the surface letting you know the inside is releasing moisture and nearing completion. Cool for at least an hour before cutting.

After 60 minutes of baking, give or take, the center should be slightly firm to the touch. Cracks will start to form on the surface letting you know the inside is releasing moisture and nearing completion. Cool for at least an hour before cutting.

Sometimes it takes a village. Along with consulting the Hoosier Mama recipe, below are the two recipes I combined to develop this chocolate walnut chess-adjacent pie. I came up with some alterations, but I must give credit to the talented home bakers who shared great tips in the comments sections, especially panamabev. But I think the most credit goes to our chickens for laying such beautiful eggs and not even getting to taste the fruits of their labors. Is that weird to say?

http://www.food.com/recipe/chocolate-chess-pie-22421
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/12581/chocolate-chess-pie-ii/