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.
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) room-temperature butter, divided
- 1 cups sugar, divided
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup cherry jam or preserves (raspberry or orange would also be delicious)
- 1 ounce unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Kosher salt
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
- Cream together one stick of butter and ¼ cup of sugar. Mix in the flour and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Press the mixture into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, until lightly golden around the edges. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees after you take out the crust.
- While the crust is baking, heat the butter, chocolate, and cocoa powder in the microwave or on the stove until fully melted. Remove from heat and mix in the remaining ¾ cup of sugar. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, and salt until fully incorporated.
- Spread the jam evenly over the crust. Pour the chocolate filling on top. Bake until the filling is fully set, 30-40 minutes. For the cleanest slices, chill the bars in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.