Chess Pie Bars with Dark Chocolate {& my visit to GE Monogram in Louisville, KY)

I’m guessing if you’re from the South, you’ve had a slice of Chess Pie. Or you’ve at least heard of Chess Pie. I, however, am from the northern realms of the Midwest, and hadn’t heard of or experienced its wonderfulness until just a couple weeks ago on my first visit to Louisville, Kentucky.

I, along with 17 other food bloggers from across the United States and Canada, was invited as a guest of GE Monogram to spend a few days learning about GE’s line of high-end appliances, to mingle and cook with fellow food bloggers, and to get acquainted with Louisville’s southern hospitality. (Be sure to read on after the recipe for more on this trip!)

A trip to a new place just wouldn’t be a complete success for me without some fond food memories. And while there were actually several to choose from on this trip, it’s the Chess Pie that got to me the most. Maybe it was the fantastic group of people I was sitting with, or actually sharing a piece with the very lovely Sandy, or the soft warm air of a late evening patio…whatever the reason, I was charmed by this southern dessert and knew I needed to recreate it when I got home.

I found that Chess Pie was originally brought over from England. Recipes can vary, but generally have a single pastry crust with a filling composed of eggs, butter, granulated and brown sugars, and vanilla, which yields a custard-like pie. But unlike other custard pies, Chess Pie includes a bit of corn meal.

My version – Chess Pie Bars with Dark Chocolate – is in bar form (the essential dessert when you’re in the Midwest!) and utilizes an easy pressed-in shortbread crust. The texture and flavor of the filling lies somewhere between a custard pie and a pecan pie. And I included chunks of dark chocolate, just like I enjoyed it in Louisville. These bars are easy to make, taste ridiculously good, and they’re helping to keep Louisville alive in my Minnesota kitchen.

Chess Pie Bars with Dark Chocolate

Yield: 16 bars

Ingredients

    for the crust:
  • 1-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • for the filling:
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 T. cornmeal
  • 1 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 1 T. white vinegar
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 oz. good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Ghirardelli bittersweet 60% cacao.)

Preparation

for the crust:

Preheat oven to 325°. Spray a 9" square pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter until crumbly. Then quickly mix with hands until it forms a dough. Don’t worry if it seems a bit dry. Press dough evenly onto the bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove to cooling rack while preparing the filling.

for the filling:

Increase oven temperature to 350°.

Stir together brown sugar, sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add butter, cream, vinegar, and vanilla. Mix well. Then add the eggs and stir well to combine. Fold in the chocolate pieces and then pour mixture into pre-baked crust. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the filling is browned and set. Cool completely on a wire rack. To expedite the chocolate setting up in the bars, you can place the pan in the refrigerator for awhile before cutting.

Source

Inspired by a delicious piece of Chess Pie from a visit to Louisville, KY. Recipe heavily adapted from Southern Living (March 2000).

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And now, more about my trip to Louisville with GE Monogram!

Here we are – the very first group of food bloggers invited to the GE Monogram Experience Center…what a fun and talented bunch to spend a few food-filled days with!

Our accommodations at The Brown Hotel were absolutely lovely. I appreciate the preservation of history, and loved seeing The Brown’s years being taken care of so well. Our group was treated to dinner with their Executive Chef…right in the hotel’s kitchen! It was a very special (and scrumptious!) meal that kicked off our time in Louisville together.

We spent the majority of our time at the beautiful GE Monogram Experience Center, in the GE Appliance Park. It was clearly evident that GE is proud of its history, and that they are way more than just light bulbs and appliances. Established in 1953 and dubbed “a city within a city”, this place is large enough (approximately 900 acres) to boast its own zip code!

We learned about many of GE Monogram’s products, but what stood out most to me was the induction cooktop (above, left). Since my husband and I switched out our electric stove for a gas one about 5 years ago, I had forever sworn off anything but gas. But…I have to say the GE Monogram Induction Cooktop made me think twice. By demonstration and our own use in the kitchens, we saw firsthand the power of this cooktop. It was extremely responsive, heating up and cooling down super quickly. I also liked that it was easy to clean up and didn’t create heat in the kitchen.

Another appliance that intrigued me was the GE Monogram Advantium Oven (above, right), which is really four ovens in one, featuring:

  • speedcooking, with no preheating
  • true convection baking
  • microwave cooking
  • warming and proofing

We cooked in this oven and I was amazed at the quality of food that came out of it, in a much shorter than normal amount of time.

We had the honor of playing (cooking) in GE Monogram’s state-of-the-art kitchens, home to Chef Joe Castro and Chef Brian Logsdon. We cooked several meals, all using the induction cooktop, the Advantium oven, and the extremely envious GE Monogram Dual Fuel Professional Range. Ohhhhh…the fun I could have with that baby in my kitchen! Our time there culminated with an Iron Chef competition, where our cooking expertise was set against the clock. Although my team didn’t win, we surely enjoyed the goodness of our 50 minutes of labor when we all sat down to enjoy our final meal together.

GE Monogram made sure to get us out and about to experience some local culture. The highlight for me was visiting Bourbon Barrel Foods, producer of gourmet sauces and seasonings. I fell for many of the bourbon smoked products we tasted and took home my own little stash to experiment with.

Bourbon Barrel Foods is also proud to be the only soy sauce micro brewery in the United States. We were taken through the soy sauce process, and were able to see the fermenting soy beans, and then the soy bean mash aging in re-purposed bourbon barrels. The passion behind this company was strong. I left feeling inspired. And hungry for deep rich soy sauce drizzled over everything in sight!

I arrived in Louisville a few hours before many of the other bloggers and took advantage of that time to power walk this new-to-me city. I spent some time on the Riverwalk along the Ohio River, and then headed to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where I witnessed those famous bats being made. And then, before we caught our flights back home, our group made a stop at Churchill Downs. I’ve always known of the deep pride of history and tradition of Kentucky horse racing, but it really was something awesome to actually walk through Churchill Downs.

When I got home from this trip, my friends and family asked me what I thought of Louisville. And I summed it up by saying, “It’s a city rich in history, woven around GE, horses, baseball bats, and bourbon…and I loved it!”

Thank you so much to GE Monogram, who paid for my entire trip and provided me with an incredible and memorable experience. All text and opinions are my own.

I’m linking up with: