Pumpkin Tart or Pumpkin Chess Pie? Why not a Pumpkin Chess Pie Tart!

by Irvin on November 4, 2013 · 23 comments

Pumpkin Chess Pie Tart by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love. | www.eatthelove.com

“So what’s a chess pie?” asks pretty much anyone I know who grew up north of the Mason-Dixon line when confronted with the particular dessert. Granted I’m not a true southern boy (St. Louis, Missouri definitely has some culturally southern aspects to it, but not really the true south if you ask me). But immediately after college, working a dead-end job at a non-profit art gallery, I was introduced to the wonders of chess pies by a coworker of mine. It quickly became an obsession. This can only be the explanation of how I found myself inspired to make a pumpkin tart in the form of a pumpkin chess pie for Thanksgiving this year instead of the regular old pumpkin pie. Pumpkin Chess Pie Tart FTW! (Jump directly to the recipe.)

Pumpkin Chess Pie Tart by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love. | www.eatthelove.com

For those who haven’t been introduced to the pleasures of chess pie, it’s a plain sweet custard pie that has been baked (as opposed to those custard pies where the filling is made on the stove and then poured into the pie shell). The one major distinction between a custard pie and a chess pie is the addition of cornmeal that adds a really lovely subtle texture to the pie. The large number of eggs adds a wonderful richness to the filling and the large amount of sugar in the recipe gives the pie a signature caramelization on top after it bakes. But one thing that all chess pies have in common is how insanely easy they are to make. Well, insanely easy to make normally, I’ve been known to make super complicated chess pies; don’t be like me.

Pumpkin Chess Pie Tart by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love. | www.eatthelove.com

However, this pumpkin chess pie tart is a different story. Easy to make, it is both comforting in its familiarity but a nice change of pace from the regular pumpkin pie with pumpkin spice that most people serve for the holidays. The crust itself is easy-peasy when made with vodka (a trick I learned from Cook’s Illustrated, just use cheap vodka, no need to waste the good stuff!). The tiny addition of balsamic vinegar to the filling adds an elusive hidden depth to the entire dessert, something most people won’t be able to place right away. It sounds odd but don’t skip it. Trust me on this one.

Pumpkin Chess Pie Tart by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love. | www.eatthelove.com

If you like this chess pie, you should check out my award winning (and ridiculously slightly more complicated) blackberry lemon chess pie recipe.

Other chess pies around the web to check out:
Merry Gourmet’s Grandmother’s Chess Pie
Add a Pinch’s Chocolate Chess Pie
Something Swanky’s Snickerdoodle Chess Pie
Love and Olive Oil’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Chess Pie
The Right Recipe’s Deep South Chocolate Bourbon Chess Pie

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole November 4, 2013 at 7:30 am

I’ve read a lot about chess pie, but have never actually baked one or even tasted one. Your pumpkin version looks great!


Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar November 4, 2013 at 7:42 am

This “chess pie” or whatever you call it is beautiful. Love all the fun fall flavours in there!


merry jennifer November 4, 2013 at 11:36 am

I love this idea – combining chess and pumpkin pies. The tart idea is spot on. The filling in chess pie is so sweet that the extra crust should help to balance that out. Plus, I’m a fan of neat slices, so dishing it out of a tart pan with removable bottom is genius.

(Also, congrats on day 4!)


Irvin November 5, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Thanks MJ! I love your chess pies as well. I think the world needs more chess pie! We’d all be happier…


Laura Dembowski November 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Such a great twist on traditional pumpkin pie. Love it!


Ruthy @ Omeletta November 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

YOU have an incredibly difficult recipe for something!? Well, I never ;)
Just kidding- though I’ve never actually had chess pie (silly Michigander) and always wondered where the name came from, so thank you for that addition to the recipe! Think I’ll finally give it a go, it sounds too easy not to.


Jennifer November 4, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Sounds delicious!

xo Jennifer



Dawn @ Words Of Deliciousness November 4, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I have never eaten a chess pie before. The recipe for you pumpkin chess pie tart sounds wonderful. I really think I need to taste a chess pie after seeing this.


Rachel @ La Pêche Fraîche November 4, 2013 at 6:55 pm

This looks amazing!! I was just thinking about making chess pie with some leftover yolks, and of course pumpkin is always on my brain during this time of year… And then this popped up! I also love the idea of whole wheat with pumpkin. Double yum.


Winnie November 5, 2013 at 6:47 am

You know I love your desserts…this pie looks divine!


Khim November 5, 2013 at 6:51 am

Why vodka?


Irvin November 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm

The vodka inhibits the gluten in the flour which could make the crust tough, but makes the dough moist enough to roll out. It burns off when you bake it though so you don’t taste the vodka. But if you don’t want to use vodka, feel free to just use plain ice water in it’s place.


Thomas November 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

Made the pie version last night, chilling in the fridge. Didn’t use a deep dish plate, so there was some filling left over. I cooked up the leftover filling on the stovetop – super sweet! I think I’ll do some barely sweetened whipped cream to go with it.


Irvin November 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Chess pie is super sweet! It’s why I opted to use a tart pan, because you get less filling to crust ratio. Barely sweetened whipped cream sounds like the perfect compliment to it!


Thomas November 6, 2013 at 6:21 am

It was a lot more mellow than I expected from my sample, really tasty. Not sure if I’ll make it again over regular pumpkin, but maybe when I get a tart pan.

Thanks for inspiring me to try something new!


Jennie @themessybakerblog November 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Thank you for teaching me all about chess pie. Dangerously Delicious Pies makes an awesome Berger cookie chess pie here in Baltimore, which where my love for chess pie began. Your photos look amazing! Pinned.


skeindalous November 6, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Love the idea for a new take on pumpkin pie. And totally LOVE the blue/green/rose dishes! Can you tell us what they are?


Irvin November 7, 2013 at 12:25 am

I bought them a few years ago from Cost Plus World Market! I really love them too. Not sure if CPWM still carries them or not…


Mary@SiftingFocus November 8, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Irvin, what a terrific combination of flavors. I love Chess Pie. Add pumpkin, and oh, wow! I’m curious about the bay leaf. Can you describe a little more about what taste it lent overall to the tart?


Irvin November 15, 2013 at 1:21 am

The bay leaf is pretty subtle actually but it does adds an autumnal touch to the pumpkin. It actually makes the pumpkin taste more pumpkin if that makes any sense. You certainly don’t eat the pie and think “Hmmm…that taste like bay leaf” but it adds an underlying green earthiness to the pumpkin that just really helps compliment it.


Cindy November 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Do you think you could cut down the sugar without changing the texture? I made the pie and it is awesome, but way too sweet for me.


Irvin November 25, 2013 at 2:51 am

Hi Cindy! Honestly I don’t know. Chess pie is pretty sweet, which is why I made it in a tart pan so there would be more crust and less filling per recipe. That said, I consulted with my friend and culinary baking expert Stella over at Brave Tart and she thinks cutting down on some of the sugar would alter the texture. If you do want to experiment though, try reducing the sugar by half a cup and adding a couple more tablespoons of flour and cornmeal to the filling to compensate. Otherwise you might want to add some more salt as well, which could help cut the sweetness. Just to be clear though, I’ve never made it this way so I can’t guarantee they’ll turn out! But if you do experiment in the kitchen, come back and let me know how it turns out!

And for a less sweet pie, you could try my caramel pumpkin pie. It does use some unorthodox ingredients like powdered milk, but it’s definitely less sweet and more traditional in texture and flavor to a regular pumpkin pie.


Abby December 7, 2013 at 12:19 am

I found my chess pie recipes in the William and Mary cookbook, and combined them with southwestern spices for Chocolate Chile Chess Pie. And it was delicious!


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