Chess pie is an easy to make custard pie that is a Southern classic and a favorite in my home. Not only is the pie delicious, but it happens to be exceptionally easy to make. For me, that means I can whip one up on relatively short notice and easily play around with different flavors in my pies. This particular pie is an Orange Pecan Chess Pie, a variation on both a chess pie and a pecan pie that I think is a wonderful holiday dessert.
The filling of this pie is made with sugar, eggs, cornmeal and milk, with both vanilla extract and fresh orange zest added in for flavor. The cornmeal may seem like an unexpected ingredient in a pie filling, but it helps to thicken up the custard and gives the filling a little bit of extra body. The orange zest is the star of the custard because the fresh zest – and you’ll only need the zest from 1 whole orange – brings a bright, citrus flavor to the pie and really pairs exceptionally well with the pecans. The pecans are stirred into the filling after the other ingredients have been mixed together.
I use roasted and salted pecans, which contrast well with the sweet filling and bring a fantastic crunch to the topping of the pie as it caramelizes in the oven. Whole pecans will give your pie the best finished look, however you can use coarsely chopped pecans instead if that is what you have on hand. There are a generous amount of nuts in this pie and, while they mostly float to the surface while the pie is in the oven, you’ll find the odd nut gets trapped in the filling for a surprise crunch when you are serving.
The pie is creamy, crunchy, sweet and nutty. You can taste the orange, vanilla and pecans in every bite and it is so good that you may never want to go back to a traditional pecan pie! This pie is best served slightly chilled and it can be made a day ahead of when you plan to serve it. Use a serrated knife to cut through the pie before serving to get neat slices.
Orange Pecan Chess Pie
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup milk (any kind)
1 1/2 cups whole or coarsely chopped toasted pecans (pref. toasted and salted)
prebaked 9-inch pie crust
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, egg yolk, cornmeal, salt, vanilla extract and orange zest. Whisk in the melted butter, followed by the milk, until ingredients are well-combined. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into prebaked 9-inch pie crust.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the pie is set and jiggles only very slightly when the pan is tapped. Allow pie to cool to room temperature. Pie can be served at room temperature or refrigerated before serving.