Monday, July 6, 2020 -
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Shavuot Southern style

It’s funny where Google Suggest — combined with typos — can take you. One that always gets me is “cheesecake.” I mistype and suddenly I’m searching for “chess pie.” Hmmm…what’s that? One day I decided to click on the “suggest” instead of retyping cheese, and I discovered a traditional southern custard pie. Always on the hunt for non-cheesecake dairy Shavuot desserts, I decided to take the typo as inspiration this year.

Like many southern desserts, chess pie is very sweet. Ever since my first Google mis-search, it had been on my list, and when I visited Nashville this past winter, I finally sampled a slice. It didn’t disappoint. I had the purist form, but, as with many simple dishes — cheesecake, for example — there are many variants: chocolate, lemon etc.


Brown Butter Chess Pie — a Southern Shavuot alternative to New York cheesecake

For this Shavuot I tested a brown butter lemon variant courtesy of Joy the Baker, a food blogger based in New Orleans. I sneaked a slice and let me tell you, it is good. The addition of lemon juice, lemon zest and buttermilk balance out the sweetness perfectly. Serve with a side of fresh berries, and this makes a perfect Shavuot dessert.

And please, don’t use a store bought crust. This crust was extremely simple to make and its tang is necessary to the finished dish. Note: The recipe called for salted butter; we used unsalted.

Brown Butter Chess Pie

Adapted from Joy the Baker



  • 1 ¼ C flour
  • 1 TB sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ C 1 stick butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1/4 C plus 1 to 2 tablespoon cold buttermilk


  • 1 ½ C granulated sugar
  • 1 TB lemon zest
  • ¼ C all-purpose flour
  • 3 TB cornmeal
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ C buttermilk
  • 1 TB fresh lemon juice
  • ½ C butter, melted until browned and slightly cooled
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract


  1. Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add cold, cubed butter and, using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture. Quickly break the butter down into the flour mixture, some butter pieces will be the size of oat flakes, some will be the size of peas. Create a well in the mixture and pour in the cold buttermilk. Use a fork to bring to dough together. Try to moisten all of the flour bits. Add a bit more buttermilk if necessary, but you want to mixture to be shaggy and not outwardly wet.
  2. On a lightly floured work surface, gently knead the dough into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. On a well floured surface, roll the crust 1/8 inch thick and about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer it to a pie pan. Trim the edge almost even with the edge of the pan Fold the edges under and crimp with your fingers or a fork. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours.
  4. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350ºF. In a medium bowl, rub together granulated sugar and lemon zest until sugar is fragrant. Whisk in the flour, cornmeal and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, lemon, browned butter and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients, all at once, to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Place on a baking sheet and carefully place in the oven.
  5. Allow pie to bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the pie is browned and puffed and not jiggling. Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before allowing to rest in the refrigerator.

Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher |

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