Some recipes take a lot of tinkering before I get them right. Others never quite turn out at all and, for the purposes of this blog, are abandoned. Some ideas get scribbled down and then never go anywhere. Even in my day-to-day cooking, I tend to try new variations rather than stick to favorite recipes.
But sometimes everything just goes right. I try something for the first time and it’s so good that I know I will be making it again. These chess pie bars are one of those once-in-a-blue-moon recipes. I threw them together on a whim. I’d never had chocolate chess pie and wanted to give it a try. I decided to do bars with a shortbread crust because they would be faster and easier to serve at a friend’s barbecue. Since I’m not a big chocolate-on-chocolate-on-chocolate dessert person, I added a slick of cherry jam to provide some fruity contrast.
And they weren’t just good, they were incredible.
Until recently, I wasn’t familiar with the chess pie family. They are traditional, Southern pies. Sources differ on how the pies got their name, but most attribute their prominence to the fact that they could be made with basic pantry ingredients that were widely available and inexpensive – butter, eggs, and a sweetener like sugar or sorghum. The most classic version also contains vinegar and cornmeal, to cut the sweetness and add texture, respectively. The ingredients are mixed and baked in a pie crust until they thicken and set. Once fully cooled, the texture is similar to lemon bars’.
Now, I’m sure all the other chess pies – classic, buttermilk, lemon, etc. – are good. I haven’t tried most of them, but I can tell you that chocolate is undeniably my favorite for one remarkable reason, which no one on the internet ever had the courtesy to tell me. If they had, I would have certainly made it already. Here it is: Chocolate chess pie filling tastes exactly like brownie batter. It was love at first bite.
I could have seen it coming. The ingredients are the same as a standard brownie recipe, just without the flour and leavening agents. Instead of baking into something with cake-y structure, these stay dense, soft, and slightly gooey. As someone who compulsively scrapes every bit of leftover batter from the bowl, it was a revelation.
I’m still getting used to my new work routine. I started biking this week, which is faster (and better for me) than taking the bus, but I still leave earlier and get home later. There’s lots of food for snacking at work, which means I don’t eat as many real meals. Every day, there are freshly baked loaves of mini challah, which are too easy to swipe off the cooling rack. We split them, but I’m sure I’ve eaten what amounts to an entire six-inch loaf most days.
We also have a very late lunch/early dinner around 3:30 p.m., which means I’m usually not hungry when I get home. By the time I need a snack, it’s late and I’d rather throw something quick together to tide me over for the rest of the night than make an entire meal. It’s resulted in more than a few nights of rummaging through the freezer instead of turning on the stove, but I’m working on it.
This scallion-ginger-sesame sauce is the type of thing that’s perfect to have on hand to produce something tasty in a pinch. It’s incredibly flavorful and versatile. You start by stirring together thinly sliced scallions, minced ginger, slivers of Thai chilies, and toasted sesame seeds. That mixture alone could be the beginning of a delicious dish, but then you pull some kitchen wizardry and pour really hot oil over everything. The sauce will immediately sputter and bubble up, infusing the oil and softening the scallions and ginger. You can use it immediately or, as I do, make a big batch to store in the fridge.
In the last two days, I’ve spooned it over red rice for an instant rice salad, turned the salad leftovers into dinner with the addition of baked tofu cubes, and used some of the flavorful oil to sauté vegetables. It works equally well as a base from which to build a hearty stir-fry or a condiment to perk up leftovers.