I am a chess pie fanatic. It was a frequent dessert at my grandmother’s house and a fond childhood food memory for me. That sweet, soft filling with a slightly grainy texture from a tiny dose of cornmeal. I love it. And I have produced many iterations over the years, from Sweet Potato Buttermilk, to chocolate in a chocolate crust to salted honey. Some version always appears on my Thanksgiving menu. One year, I even did an all-chess pie dessert spread! Cranberry seemed like the next logical flavor for the season, and it is a stunner with its jeweled ruby color and tart-sweet taste.
I include my recipe for a buttermilk pie crust below, but I have no issue using a good quality store-bought rolled crust, particularly during the busy holiday baking season. I like to fit the pie crust into a springform pan to get the straight edged, clean lines – and because I have never been very good a crimping a crust. A sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar gives the top a snowy finish (I put an acorn shaped piece of paper in the center of this one to leave a creative pattern). I have also made leaves with a second pie crust to place around the edges or bought some pretty leaf shaped shortbread cookies. If you want to top it with some sugar dusted fresh cranberries, that adds a lovely touch. I recommend making this pie at least a day ahead so it fully cools and firms up. Keep it covered on the counter. You can also chill it, tightly wrap in plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze it for up to a month. Thaw in the fridge overnight, then let it come to room temperature before serving.
Cranberry Chess Pie
- For the Crust
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
¼ – ½ cup buttermilk
- For the Filling
3 cups cranberries (1 12-ounce bag)
1 cup sugar
Zest and juice of one small navel orange
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup buttermilk
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cornmeal
Pinch of ground cloves
- For the Crust
- Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse just until the mixture is crumbly. Add ¼ cup of buttermilk and pulse until you have a shaggy ball of dough, adding more buttermilk if needed. Remove the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and knead to pull together, then pat it into a disk and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
- When ready to make the pie, take the dough from the fridge and let soften slightly. Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Roll the dough on a lightly floured counter into a 12-inch round disk. Carefully fit the crust into a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, then line the crust with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool. Remove the pie weights.
- For the Filling
- Put the cranberries, sugar, orange zest and juice in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the berries have broken down, 10 – 15 minutes. As you stir, pop and mash the berries with the back of a spoon or spatula. Set a wire mesh strainer over a large bowl and scoop the cooked cranberries into the strainer. Push the berries through with a spatula or spoon, pressing out as much pulp as you can and occasionally scraping the bottom of the strainer, until there are only skins left in the strainer. The end result needs to be one cup of cranberry pulp. Cool completely
- When the puree is cool and the pie crust is also cooled, add the eggs, melted butter, buttermilk, and vanilla to the cranberry puree. Whisk until smooth. Whisk the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cornmeal and cloves together in a small bowl, then add to the wet ingredients and whisk until everything is completely combined. Pour the filling into the prepared crust
- Bake the pie for 40 – 50 minutes until the center is set with just a tiny bit of jiggle. If the crust is getting very brown, shield it with foil. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack.
- Cool completely and keep covered on the counter for up to two days.