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This pie looks like it could be chocolate or molasses, but the flavor is pure caramel-heaven

Simplicity itself, this pie is an old-timer. I suspect it’s the great-aunt of the modern darling, pecan pie, though I thus far I have no documentation to support this guess of mine. You start this particular pie off in a 450 degree oven for a five-minute heat-blas; then ease it down to 350 and let it bake slowly to plush perfection. Located in Southern Pies‘ old-school chapter, “A Chess Pie Compendium”, Brown Sugar Pie follows the chess-pie theme of basic but luscious desserts, made from everyday home-kitchen ingredients. While the recipes in Southern Pies range in difficulty levels from simple to elaborate, this particular pie is just about as straightforward and speedy as any in the book. Brown sugar, eggs, softened butter, and vanilla, are stirred into a thick, silky brown mixture, and baked off in the time it takes to clean up the dishes, put away the brown sugar and vanilla, and read today’s poem from The Writer’s Almanac — this may be the very dessert that called forth the term, “Easy as pie!”

Nancie’s Daily Pie for October 2, 2010

Brown Sugar Pie

Unbaked piecrust for one 9-inch pie

1/2 cup butter, softened (one stick/4 ounces)

2 cups packed brown sugar, light or dark or a combination

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a medium bowl, beat the butter with a whisk or a big wooden spoon, until it is soft and creamy. (I used my hand-held mixer, since the butter was very recently sprung from the fridge, and I wanted maximum help in combining all ingredients into a smooth filling).

Add the brown sugar and beat well, scraping the bowl often, until soft and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating very well after each addition. Add the vanilla, beat to mix everything well, and then pour all the filling into the ubaked piecrust, and smooth out the top.

Place the pie on the bottom shelf of the 450 degree oven and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until the edges puff up, and the center is fairly firm when you gently shake the pan, 20 to 25 minutes. (The puffing-up is a phase — enjoy it, but don’t expect it to endure through eating time — chess pie’s job is to expand and then settle back down into a satisfying un-puffed up pie.) If the crust and pie are nicely browned and the pie needs a little more time for the filling to set, cover it loosely with a generous piece of aluminum foil to prevent further browning.

Set the pie on a cooling rack, or on a folded kitchen towel and let it cool to room temperature.

From Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books, October 2010)

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. debbie Reply

    Lordy lord lord. You have no idea how my heart is racing just *thinking* about this pie.

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Be still my heart—no, make that your heart, Debbie! It’s just plain good, and since it’s so very sweet, it actually goes quite a long way if you’re looking to take something sweet along for a potluck/covered dish. Or in little pastry-lined mini-muffin cups for pie-babies, which ought to freeze nicely — I need to test that out and report back.

  2. Anna Reply

    I just tried making this pie. After 25 minutes at 350º, the pie appeared to be stiff when gently shaken, so I removed it from the oven. About 20 minutes later, the top had collapsed and it was clear that the filling had not cooked through at all; it looked very soupy. I returned it to the oven for another 15 minutes at 350º, but the filling still wasn’t setting up! I just offered my guests a slice of “soup pie” —what gives?

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Anna, I am so sorry my recipe gave you a mess rather than a wonderful cut-able/solid pie. Sounds like when the pie first came out of the oven, it looked and seemed to be done, but was in fact not done. That would be the reason for the collapse, and once the pie was out of the oven for a while, it cooled down. From that point on, you couldn’t get it back to the level of heat where it could pick up where it left off and continue cooking. My fault, if my directions on telling when the pie is done were clear enough, you wouldn’t have taken it out when you did. Again, so sorry for this disappointment at your table.

      • Anna Reply

        Hi Nancie,

        I actually got the recipe directly from the cookbook—sorry to have made you believe that your post was to blame! After my botched result, I googled the recipe to see if anyone else had a similar outcome when attempting the recipe. Your post was the only other account I could find. Thanks for your insights, though. We still enjoyed the flavor of the pie, even though it was fairly gunky. Live and learn, I guess!

        • Nancie McDermott Reply

          Hi, Anna. Do you mean you got the recipe from my cookbook “Southern Pies”? It has a little more detail on timing and determining if the pie is ready, but not a lot more. It’s such a judgement call, and as I’m cooking a pie a day for this month’s blog project, I’m realizing how much variation there is among kinds of pie and even batches. I made the chocolate chess pie this weekend, which is on the blog here, a double batch for a party. They came out looking quite different from the one in the photograph, with more of a dark brownie top, and not the crisp cracked dried-up riverbed look that I so love. Still tasty and good, but different.

  3. Jessica Reply

    Hello Nancie!!

    Can you use margarine in place of the butter? I am going to attempt this pie in a very old oven – I hope it works out. My boyfriend always talks about his uncle having made a delicious sugar pie. Any sugar pie recipes I’ve seen call for corn syrup or maple syrup and I don’t like that – I find desserts with those ingredients tend to be too gooey & messy. I did read the poster’s comment saying her pie ended up quite gooey… I hope I can avoid this!

    Happy new year,


    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Are you still there? Who could blame you for giving up and blocking me for life, for non-responding-ness. It’s almost the 2-month anniversary of your comment and I am so sorry for that. You probably made the pie anyway, but just to answer your question: Margarine for Butter. In many and perhaps most baking instances, margarine can sub in for butter, IF you use margarine in stick or block form. If it has the same shape as butter, it is formulated in ways that will generally behave like butter in a baked thing. You cannot use margarine or any other butter substitute that comes in a tub, or squeeze bottle, or anything soft and different in the way that those spreads are. The substance, texture, everything is all wrong for baking. Does this help at all? Did you make the pie and if so, did it come out soupy, or substantial, or something in between? And happy new year to you, too! Never too late for good wishes, and Thai new year isn’t until April, so we are in that way, earlybirds!

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