Chess Pie

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Adopted from Julia Reed’s Southern Cookbook, these delectable little bars are a perfect picnic versions of the traditional custard pie. Unlike lemon bars with their iconic lip-puckering citrus, these instead have a blanket of egg-rich custard, laced liberally with vanilla, on top of a delicious crumbly, lightly salted shortbread crust.

If buttermilk is unavailable, you can create a substitute by combining a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar with a cup of milk. Allow to stand for 5 min, then measure out ¾ cup.


For the shortbread crust:

  • 2 cups/240 grams flour (all-purpose)
  • ½ cup/57 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounces/170 grams (1 1/2 sticks)butter, unsalted & softened

For the filling:

  • 6 ounces/170 grams butter (1 1/2 sticks), unsalted (at room temperature)
  • 1 ½ cups/297 grams sugar (granulated)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup/168 milliliters buttermilk (at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons fine white or yellow cornmeal
  • 2  tablespoons flour (all-purpose)

Nutritional Information

Nutritional analysis per serving (24 servings):
217 calories; 12 grams fat; 2 grams protein; 7 grams saturated fat; 3 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 grams polyunsaturated fat; 0 grams trans fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams dietary fiber; 15 grams sugars; 76 milligrams cholesterol; 77 milligrams sodium.

The information shown is only an estimate based on the available ingredients and specified preparation. This should not take the place of a professional nutritionist’s advice.


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Making the crust: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or a couple of forks until well blended – the dough will hold together when a lump is pressed in your hand.
  3. Into a 9 by 13 inch baking dish, evenly press the dough along the bottom. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the edges have browned. Take shortbread out of the oven and allow to slightly cool. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.
  4. Making the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter & sugar until fluffy & light, approx. 5 minutes. One at a time, beat the egg yolks until blended well. Move to a whisk attachment, and slowly beat in the buttermilk & vanilla until also well blended. Beat the flour and cornmeal until just combined.
  5. Pour the filling over the crust. Bake for 25-30 min, until the top is set and golden. Place the baking dish on a wire rack and allow to cool, before cutting the desert into 24 squares (roughly 2 inches) and serve.