Today’s post combines the exotic and the familiar: artisanal chocolate from Ecuador with a Southern staple, chess pie.
Do you know about chess pie? I was first introduced to it after I moved to Nashville many years ago. The tangy-sweet (sometimes teeth-achingly sweet!) egg custard pie is one of the defining desserts of the South that has somewhat of an undefined history.
It was reportedly brought from England to the colonies. It took hold in Virginia, and became a mainstay in kitchens below the Mason-Dixon line. The name “chess” is curious: some say it is called that because pies of this sort were kept in the pie chest–a specific piece of furniture for pie storage. Others assert that it has more to do with the content of the pie itself–a bake of eggs, sugar, butter, and vinegar—so that it’s a play on words, as in, it’s “just pie”, or, in the vernacular, “jest pie.”
In any case, the pie’s neutral palette has lent itself to numerous variations, such as buttermilk chess, lemon chess, and chocolate chess.
When the kind people at Kallari asked me to sample their specialty chocolates (who could resist such a request?) I was more than happy to accept the offer. I was curious to taste the sustainably produced confection in varying strengths: 70%, 75%, and 85%. But I was really interested in using it in a recipe. Chocolate chess pie seemed like a good place to start.
I was also intrigued by the story behind this chocolate.
Over 900 families of the Kichwa, an indigenous people of Ecuadorian Amazon, belong to the Kallari collective. Using sustainable organic practices, they grow, tend, harvest, and ferment the heirloom cacao beans. They make the chocolate in a factory that is four hours away from their cooperative center. This proximity–and hands-on approach– further distinguishes Kallari, as most cacao growers do not fabricate the chocolate. Few have ever tasted really good chocolate. Most beans are shipped to factories in Europe and North America to be roasted, and processed into bars.
Kallari has 2 meanings in the Kichwa language: “To Begin” and “The Early Times”. This is fitting, as the work of the Kallari collective has meant a new start for the growers, while harkening to the heritage of the crops. As a collective, the Kichwa completely own the company, and therefore reap greater earnings for their harvest than if they sold their beans to another company for fair trade pay. Three varieties of cacao beans that flourish on the Kichwa lands go into making the chocolate, each contributing to the complexity of the bars.
The result is astonishing, swoon-worthy. Eaten out of hand, the 70% chocolate has such creamy mouthfeel, very like milk chocolate, except that it is dark, with notes of caramel and berry. The 75% is richer still, yet silken, with nuances of tropical fruits, and a little peppery bite.
The 85% has firm snap, earthy almost smoky richness with an undercurrent of fruit–a bit bitter and dry to eat out of hand, but an ideal chocolate to bake into my pie.
Much loved for its taste, a chess pie is well-appreciated for its easy-as-pie method. Chocolate chess follows suit. Likely I spent more time making the pie crust than on the filling…
…which gets a kickstart in the microwave, melting the chocolate, butter, and sugars together. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, a splash of bourbon–you can do this all by hand in a blink.
In no time, you could be pouring this lush filling into the pie shell. Thirty minutes later, you could be having a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate chess pie. (add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, slices of ripe peach, fresh blackberry puree–ah, sublime!)
Make it with Kallari chocolate, and you are doing good, while feasting well. You can order it from them or check at Whole Foods–many of them carry it.)
CHOCOLATE BOURBON CHESS PIE
2.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup raw sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
unbaked pie shell
Into a large microwaveable bowl, place chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces, along with butter, and both sugars. Microwave for about a minute to melt the butter and chocolate. Stir and microwave for another 30 seconds, to make sure that all the chocolate and butter is melted.
Whisk in the vanilla and bourbon, until the mixture is smooth. Beat in eggs (using the same whisk) one at a time–adding the second egg after the first is incorporated.
Beat in flour and salt.
Pour into a prepared, unbaked pie shell.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Remove and cool on a pie/cake rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.