What's the Difference Between Chess Pie and Buttermilk Pie?
It's easy to confuse a chess pie and a buttermilk pie. Both are classic Southern desserts. Both are simple and homey looking with a single pastry crust and a creamy, pale yellow filling. But take a bite of each and you'll notice the difference between the two desserts immediately.
Chess pie may look unassuming, but it is extremely rich and intensely sweet—you might be surprised if you've never tasted it before. The gooey filling is made from traditional pantry staples: sugar, butter, eggs, and cornmeal. Some chess pie recipes may call for flour instead of cornmeal (or a little of both), but cornmeal helps thicken the filling while also intensifying its pretty yellow color. You'll also find a tablespoon or so of vinegar in most recipes, which helps balance out all of that sugar.
No one is entirely sure how chess pie got its name. Some say the pie used to be stored in an old-fashioned pie chest, or "chess" if you've got a Southern drawl. Others say the name comes from its plainness—it's nothing special, "it's ches' pie".
Buttermilk pie, true to its name, has a creamy dairy-based filling that's both sweet and tangy. Like chess pie, it has a buttery pastry crust and the filling is also made with sugar, butter, and eggs, but most buttermilk pie recipes also include fresh lemon juice and zest for extra brightness and a little vanilla extract. You also won't find cornmeal in the filling; flour is the most common thickener in buttermilk pies.
In short—for pure, unadorned sweetness, go for a chess pie. For a dessert with a lemony tang, choose buttermilk pie. Either way, you won't be disappointed!