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In The Kitchen With: Cheryl Day’s Chocolate Chess Pie

by Kristina Gill

Cheryl Day’s Back in the Day Bakery is one of my favorite “one day I’m going to drive to that bakery” dream destinations. Cheryl is one of the first people I thought about when I saw Black History Month coming around the bend. She has shared her blackened shrimp tacos and baked peach hand pies before. This week, she shares her Chocolate Chess Pie. Chess pie is the quintessential Southern pie (Hugh Acheson shared his recipe with us), often seated alongside a pecan pie and a sweet potato pie at holidays. If you’ve never tried it, it is an incredibly sweet pie that’s difficult to describe — a filling made with butter, sugar, eggs and some cornmeal, and sometimes you’ll find it with lemon, sometimes with chocolate. Sometimes it’s just chess pie. I opted for a straight-sided pie in this version, and I bet my filling is a bit firmer than Cheryl’s, but she does hers a bit fancier. You’ll just have to drive to Back in the Day Bakery to see how it’s done! — Kristina

About Cheryl Day: Cheryl and her husband, Griffith, are the authors of the best-selling cookbook The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, which was named one of Amazon’s Best Cookbooks of 2012 and was included in Food & Wine Magazine’s Top 25 Cookbooks of 2012. Self-taught bakers Cheryl and Griffith Day opened Back in the Day Bakery, a neighborhood bakeshop in Savannah, Georgia, in 2002. The bakery is recognized nationally and locally for its homespun decadent desserts and delicious rustic breads, as well as the warm and friendly atmosphere that has made it a food landmark. Cheryl honed her skills in her mother and grandmother’s kitchen, and Griff’s interest in baking was piqued as a child by the magical sourdough starter that his mother kept in the family kitchen. In their cookbook, you will find some of their favorite recipes accompanied by personal stories about creating food memories with family and friends. Cheryl and Griffith are currently working on their second cookbook.

See Cheryl’s recipe after the jump . . .

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chess Pie

Shortcut Pie Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie crust

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in the butter and stir with a fork until it looks moist and crumbly. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pie dish. You can crimp the edges decoratively or leave them rustic. Chill the crust for at least 1 hour or store in the freezer for up to a month in advance.

Pie Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk


In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the cornmeal, nutmeg and cocoa powder, mixing until completely combined. Stir in the vanilla, butter, eggs and evaporated milk and mix until fully incorporated. When ready to bake, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the pie and cool for at least one hour. Serve with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Fresh Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar


Use a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or use a handheld mixer in a large mixing bowl. Whip the heavy cream, sour cream and sugar on medium speed until it starts to hold soft peaks.

Why Cheryl Loves This Recipe

I love making pies! I come from a long line of Southern bakers that taught me the craft of baking from scratch. I enjoy the simple pleasure of hand mixing pie dough in a big old ceramic bowl and crimping the crust with my fingers. It is such an easy pie to make and somehow makes me feel a connection to the traditions of my family, who was part of America’s great migration from the South. I am thankful for the wonderful stories that kept our history alive over generations, and I am excited to share one of those recipes. It is a simple, pure and honest pie, and most of the ingredients just might be in your pantry already.

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