Monday, July 11, 2011

Mini Chess Pies for the Birthday Girl


Some birthday girls like to be treated to breakfast in bed. Perhaps eggs and hash browns with a side of bacon on the plate. Today's birthday girl opted for breakfast on the road (in the middle of a 70 mile bike ride). And a side of bacon served out of a bike jersey (literally, one of the birthday celebrants stashed some bacon strips in her jersey for snacking while she pedaled). Unfortunately, I missed the birthday bike ride and what sounds like the crème de la crème of cycling rest stops that was rumored to include cupcakes, grilled cheese and lots and lots of bacon.  (Clink, clink - those are the shackles of my job that kept me from birthday bike riding fun.)

Foooortunately, Birthday Girl wanted to keep on celebrating with an evening rooftop bbq! I didn't get out of work until late in the afternoon and I knew if I wanted to bake something, it would have to be super quick. So I took an already fast dessert, chess pie, and pared it down to individual chessies. Making mini chess pies cut down on cooking time and made for cute and easy serving. Perfect for an outdoor bbq.
(This guy seems to be questioning his future.)

There was a time when I didn't understand chess pie. I didn't understand why someone would want a dessert that was flavored with just sugar and butter, and didn't even have frosting (I'm biting my own tongue as I write this). No chocolate? No fruit filling? No thank you. (Sidenote: I didn't encounter chess pie until I moved to Washington, DC as an adult. Otherwise, I certainly would have had a better appreciation for the stuff. Probably from birth.)

Then I actually tasted it. I sampled chess squares and crack pie and vinegar pie and hot damn, they were good. It was like little bites of sugary heaven. And it was a reminder of what an awesome science baking is. Chess pie is made from the most quintessential baking ingredients: eggs, flour, butter, and sugar. These commodities are cheap - or as cheap as food comes these days - and can be stirred together to produce edible gold.

Chess pie has many variations. Sometimes it has a pastry pie crust and sometimes the topping is made with cream cheese rather than egg whites. I'm sure that a great many varieties are equally delicious, but the beauty of this particular recipe is its ease. You likely have all of the ingredients in your kitchen right now and you can make it start to finish in under an hour.

And here's the Birthday Girl (center), with our nation's capitol in the background. BG happens to hate hugs. As you might imagine, a girl who hates hugs gets more birthday hugs than any typical birthday girl. Obviously.

Mini Chess Pies 
(adapted from

Makes 24 individual pies

Base layer
1-1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla

3 eggs whites
1-1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners. Stir or sift together dry ingredients for the base layer. Mix all base layer ingredients together using an electric mixer. Make sure butter is soft enough to be blended into try ingredients, but not melty. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Divide evenly among muffin cups (around 2 heaping tbs. per cup). Press down evenly into muffin cups (tip: use the bottom of a glass that is slightly smaller than the muffin tins to pack down the crumbs).

For topping, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they are thick and foamy (tip: whites beat up best when close to room temperature). Mix in sugar and vanilla. Add a heaping spoonful of topping to each of the muffin cups and gently spread around with a spoon so that base layer is covered with topping.

Bake at 300 degrees for 20-24 minutes (22 minutes was perfect for me). Tops will puff up slightly and turn golden-brown. Let cool before serving. Present to your favorite birthday girl with a side of bacon.

These mini pies still taste great after being stored overnight in an airtight container.

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