Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie

chess pie2


Matthew and Frances are arriving today for the New Year and Matthew’s birthday! I couldn’t be more excited!! Of course I took the day off so I could be cooking and just generally getting the house ready for their visit. We have several fun things planned for the week, but tonight we will just be home catching up. The weather has been filthy and I am completely content to be inside. I am making a pork shoulder ragu with a pappardelle pasta and my sunshine kale salad. For dessert, I made Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie, a variation on a pecan pie. While I don’t often brag, I can honestly say that I make the best pecan pie. So why mess with it, you ask? I get bored and I want to try new things – or in this case, something a few hundred years old. It won’t replace my pecan pie, but it is delicious in its own right.

While I was trying to track down the recipe that my friend had made for us about 20 years ago, I came across many versions and variations on chess pie – but none were the one I wanted. My friend finally came through and found the recipe and I’m sharing it with you, with 2 small changes. The name, by the way, has several origins, but the one I like is that it is a mispronunciation of “cheese.” There is butter and cream in the recipe, which along with the eggs forms a custardy, sweet “cheese.” I am also including a pie crust recipe that has changed my baking forever. Over the years, I have tried many, many pie crust recipes. I have thrown out lots of awful dough, and suffered through patching and much hand-wringing. So I was skeptical when I read a recipe for “Foolproof Pie Crust.” It REALLY WORKS! And it is flaky and delicious. You can make it vegan if you simply substitute out the butter for Earth Balance buttery vegan sticks. I read it on what is fast becoming my favorite website Food52.

Thomas Jefferson’s Chess Pie – mostly

Yield: One 9 inch pie


1 unbaked 9 inch pastry shell (recipe below)

4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste

2 Tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon Kentucky Bourbon

1 generous cup chopped or broken pecans


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream the butter with the sugars and salt.
  2. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.
  3. Stir in vanilla, Bourbon, flour, cream and pecans and mix well.
  4. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. I like to place my pie plate on a baking pan covered with a Silpat to keep it from sliding around and to catch any drips.
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes. Start checking it after 45 minutes since ovens vary. The pie should just jiggle slightly. It will continue to set as it cools. Don’t worry if the top cracks. Turn off the oven and open the door but leave the pie in the oven for 8 more minutes.
  6. Allow to cool before cutting.

chess pie

Cook’s Illustrated Foolproof Pie Crust by Kenji Lopez-Alt

This makes enough crust for a top and bottom crust or 2 single crusts. Just halve the recipe for a single crust. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor — do not substitute. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup). I didn’t find it needed quite that much, but you’ll see for yourself.

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (11/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup vodka, cold
  • 1/4 cup cold water.
  1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.
  2. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage-cheese curds, and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade.
  3. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
  4.  Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.
  5. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
  6. If you can, refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes before filling and baking. Otherwise there will be some shrinkage.

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