Blood Orange Chess Pie

 This upcoming Monday, March 14th, is Pi Day, y’all! It’s the day when we celebrate math (Pi = 3.14) by eating pie! And while I don’t so much care about math, I really like pie.

But I make hideous pies. Oh, do I ever.

Maybe one day I will be a grandma, and then I’ll make pretty pies. But today, I am thirty and make stupendously ugly ones.

You should know that I made a second one at 2am in an attempt to have something more beautiful to post, but instead, I somehow made it even more hideous! 

But the good thing about ugly pie is that it’s still pie. It doesn’t really matter how it looks, as long as it tastes good. And while this pie is not going to win any beauty contests, it is still really fun to make, and totally delicious. 

 This Blood Orange Chess Pie is a new favorite. Now, you know what blood oranges are, but why is it called chess pie? Well, the short answer is that nobody really knows. Chess Pie is from the southern U.S. by way of England, so there are a lot of theories. Some say it’s because it can be kept at room temperature in a pie chest (“chess”) due to the high sugar content. Others say it’s a southern take on the word “just,” i.e. “It’s jes’ pie.” The most widely believed is that since this pie is like a cheesecake without the cream cheese, the word “cheese” somehow became “chess.” All I know is that it has nothing to do with the board game.

But really, who cares where the name came from? It’s pie and it’s delicious. 

This chess pie is made with blood orange juice and zest, so the soft, custardy filling is perfumed with all sorts of orange goodness. I so hoped the interior would be some shade of pink or red, but the pigment of blood oranges dissipates with heat. But it doesn’t matter when it’s so simple and so good. If you really want a red or pink color though, I suppose you could add a few drops of food coloring, but I don’t think it needs it.

Blood Orange Chess Pie is a snap to put together. Make the crust (I like this one), fit it in the pan, and crimp the edges. Put that in the fridge to chill while you make the filling. Use your fingers to rub blood orange zest into some granulated sugar. This releases the oils in the blood orange peel and starts to melt the sugar. Whisk in four eggs and two egg yolks until everything is really thick and frothy. Make sure your eggs are room temperature–this will help them to fully incorporate into the filling. Slowly whisk in some melted butter. Don’t go too quickly or use piping hot butter, or you’ll get scrambled eggs. Next comes some whole milk and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice. Lastly, whisk in a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal and some salt. The cornmeal acts as our thickener, and the salt helps to offset all that sugar. 

Pour the filling (which will be thin) into the pie crust and bake for 45-55 minutes at 350F, until the filling is firm. If the filling wobbles at all when the pan is jostled, keep baking or you’ll have soup. Everything will get puffy in the oven, but it’ll settle down while it cools.

This pie is best served in small slices with coffee or tea to offset the sweetness. I like it room temperature, but love it straight from the fridge. The top gets crackly, and the interior stays soft and smooth. And it’s full of orange flavor, but not overwhelming at all. Oh, and there’s buttery, flaky pie crust. Yum.

Are you going to make pie this Pi Day? 

 Blood Orange Chess Pie
filling heavily adapted from Southern Style Lemon Chess Pie Filling
makes 1 standard 9″ pie

1/2 recipe Cream Cheese Pie Dough or other good crust
3 tablespoons freshly-grated blood orange zest*
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks, room temperature*
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Roll out the pie dough, and fit it in a standard 9-inch pie plate. Cut it to 1/2-inch of overhang, then fold the excess under and crimp. Place the prepared crust in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the blood orange zest and granulated sugar. Using your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until well-combined. Add eggs one by one, whisking after each addition. After all the eggs have been added, whisk the mixture vigorously for two minutes, until frothy and lighter in color. Slowly whisk in melted butter, followed by whole milk and blood orange juice. Mix in cornmeal and salt. Let filling sit for five minutes so large air bubbles can be released.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until filling is firm when the pan is jostled.

Let pie cool completely on a rack. Blood Orange Chess Pie may be served at room temperature or cold. Pie will keep covered at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Notes:

1. I buy two pound bags of blood oranges at Trader Joe’s. If you do not have or want to use blood oranges, you may use any oranges you like.
2. Eggs may be brought to room temperature quickly by setting whole eggs in a bowl of warm tap water for 5-10 minutes.
3. This recipe requires whole milk. Do not substitute 1%, 2%, fat free, or skim milk.

2 thoughts on “Blood Orange Chess Pie

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