The thing about chess pie is that I don’t understand it.
I hadn’t even heard of it until a couple of years ago. In my defense I’m from San Diego and this pie, apparently, hails from the South.
From what I’ve learned, it’s a sweet custard-y pie–though the stick of butter and ton of sugar put it in a new category entirely. Another element I found unique is the tablespoon of vinegar to cut the sweetness (more on that later) and the cornmeal that’s mixed in with the pie filling, which floats to the top during the baking process to create a crispy top layer. And because the pie’s ingredients are simple, the vanilla really shines through.
But, uh, the sweetness.
It’s a little much.
I am a crumble convert.
I’m used to making double-crusted pies, which involve a warm fruit filling sandwiched between two buttery crusts. Crust is my favorite part of pie, so it just makes sense.
But streusel topping is my favorite part of fruit crumbles and crisps. (Not to be confused with buckles, grunts, slumps, and other fruit desserts that sound unattractive.)
Pecan pie feels like the epitome of Thanksgiving. Not that it’s the epitome of my Thanksgivings, as I’ve only ever had it on Thanksgiving once–last year, in fact–but there’s something about it that seems so quintessentially Thanksgiving. The pecans, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla all bring rich, warm flavors to the pie–flavors that, when combined with the eggs, butter and corn syrup, result in a dark, nutty pie, the perfect indulgence to cap off an evening of overeating.
Cheesecake can be such a production. Springform pan, two pounds of cream cheese, water bath, accompanying toppings and/or sauces. If you want to make a tall, impressive cheesecake that serves sixteen, that’s great (and please invite me over). But I only ever want to make a simple cheesecake–something my two-person household is capable of finishing in a reasonable amount of time. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert and I won’t go through a rigmarole every time I want to make it. So I reject the idea that cheesecake must be baked in a springform pan.
There are a lot of delicious cheesecake recipes, and this one certainly isn’t remarkable compared to many of those. This isn’t the cheesecake you make when you want to feed a crowd or impress people with presentation. But if you want cheesecake and nothing more, this is an excellent recipe to use. It’s simple and straightforward, and I’ve made it so often that I have the recipe memorized. This is baked in a nine-inch pie tin and serves (“serves”) eight in manageable, pie-sized wedges. It’s smooth and creamy like all cheesecake should be, and the tablespoon of vanilla ensures that there’s plenty of flavor to complement the cream cheese tang.
There’s nothing like squeezing dozens of key limes to make you extremely acquainted with your open wounds. It’s like a roll call for injuries. You’re suddenly very much aware of what you thought was just a small scratch, and any and all paper cuts take the chance to remind you that they still exist. And key limes are tiny, so you’ve got a long way to go. Let’s get started.
I don’t decorate.
Part of it relates to my utter lack of artistic ability, and part of it stems from my philosophy that food is there to taste good, not look pretty. Many people are capable of doing both, but I’d rather focus on the thing I can actually do. What really perplexes me is when presentation seems to take precedence over taste, which I imagine is how fondant came into being.
But if I’m baking something for someone else, I feel a need to at least try. In this case, I got a little ambitious.