Oh my word. (This is a Southern pie, so naturally I have to start this post with a Southern expression.) The past few days have been the happiest kind of whirlwind, for reasons I can’t wait to share with you all in the coming weeks (nah, no cookbook, though if anybody has a stray book deal lying around I would be cool with that too). As I’m writing this I’m so full and content and dazed that I’m not sure I’m in a fit state to write this for you all! So I’ll keep it short and just share with you something to soothe and calm, amidst all the excitement.
For those of you who are new to chess pie, this little blurb by Southern Living perfectly sums up all you need to know, including the theories behind its funny name. Mine is a fairly standard recipe for the Southern classic, but with a teensy twist (and made miniature, surprise surprise). By infusing the cream with chamomile and thyme, the resulting custard is smooth and sweet, but with faint floral and savory notes that I found irresistible.
The tricky thing about making this mini is that does require you to prepare at least a few tablespoons to 1/4 cup more cream than you’ll end up using — I couldn’t think of a way to infuse the flavor sufficiently otherwise. I found a use for the extra cream by doubling the recipe below to make the four pies shown (and it gave me the chance to tweak the proportions to the right consistency of custard), but I think the extra cream would have been lovely too in tea or coffee, or used to add just the faintest flavor to ice cream. If you’re loathe to waste cream, you could brew tea with the thyme and chamomile, chill it or freeze it, then use it to flavor the pie crust instead.
Finally, note that you’ll need at least an hour of chilling time for the pie crust, and you’ll also need to prebake the crusts, so give plenty of time for this or prepare the dough the night before (or on a separate occasion and freeze).
Enjoy! And, on a separate note, you can find my little recipe for Chinese tea eggs up on Food52 today!
- for the pie crust:
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, frozen
- 2 tbsp ice cold water
- for the custard filling:
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream (you will use only 2 tbsp in the pie)
- 2 tbsp loose leaf chamomile tea, or 1 chamomile tea bags
- 1-2 small sprigs of thyme
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp stone-ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 tsp flour
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg
- For the pie crust, let the frozen butter thaw at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes, or until it begins to soften just slightly. (Alternatively, you can place chilled butter in the freezer for 15-20 minutes or until almost frozen. I just always have sticks of butter in the freezer.)
- Sift together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Using a box grater, grate the butter into the flour (using the largest holes), or cut it into small cubes. Cut the butter into the flour or just use your fingers until the butter forms pea-sized clumps in the dough.
- Add the water, making sure it's very cold, and stir with a spoon until the dough comes together. Give it a little time (and use your hands to press the dough together if need be), but if it remains too dry, add a teaspoon or two more water. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour and ideally overnight. You can also freeze it for later use.
- Next, you'll need to roll out and prebake the crust. Divide the ball into two equal pieces, and roll back into a round ball. Starting with a round ball of dough makes it infinitely easier to roll it into a good circle. Lightly flour two pieces of parchment paper, and place one ball in between the two pieces, returning the other to the fridge to chill. Gently roll out the dough, using the rolling pin in one direction (outward) only, and rotating the dough with every roll to ensure it's rolled out evenly. Ease up the pressure as you roll outwards so that the crust won't be too thin on the edges. When you turn the pie pan upside over the crust and the crust extends at least 1/2-inch on all sides, it's large enough. Press the crust gently into the pan, and crimp and prepare the edges as you prefer. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer as you prepare the other crust, then let the other crust freeze as well.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. When the crusts are frozen and hard to the touch, remove from the freezer and line tightly with foil, covering the edges of the crust. Place pie weights (read: for me, regular old pennies and nickels) in the bottom, taking care to line evenly. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until edges of the pie are set but not browned. Lift out the pie weights (the center of the crust will still look underbaked) and let the crusts cool while you prepare the filling.
- Preheat your oven (or adjust your oven) to 325 degrees F. In the smallest sauce pot you have, combine the heavy cream, chamomile, and thyme over low heat. Heat the cream for 4-5 minutes, stirring continuously, until cream is warm and heavily flavored with the tea and herbs. (It will be quite diluted in the custard.) If the cream begins to bubble, remove immediately from heat and simply let it steep for a few minutes off the heat. Pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer to strain out the chamomile and herbs, and place in fridge to cool.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add the melted butter and stir until incorporated (the consistency will be like wet sand).
- Beat the egg lightly, then add it to the mixture and whisk briskly until the filling is thick and light-colored, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and whisk again briefly until incorporated.
- Finally, divide the filling evenly between the two shells. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown, the edges are set, and the center jiggles very slightly but is not liquid. If the tops are browning too quickly, cover with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
- Remove and let cool completely, then serve!
For the crust, I used Courtney's ever-reliable recipe and tips, but only a quarter of the full recipe. You may find it easier to make a full batch and freeze portions, as I tend to do from time to time. I also consulted Adrianna's helpful guide (especially for the tip on grating butter), and Michelle's instructions on prebaking.