A Southern classic Lemon Chess Pie is tangy with a smooth custard like filling. It’s an exceptional citrus dessert perfect for any occasion.
With the lemon lovers in my house, a classic lemon chess pie is always a big hit. The texture is smooth and creamy with a light citrus flavor. Chess pie is pretty common in the south with the two most popular being chocolate and lemon. Most will have a bit of cornmeal to help stabilize the custardy filling.
The authors of The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book suggested adding some orange juice with the lemon juice which creates a more citrusy flavor without making it too tart. I love the combination of orange and lemon juices. The texture is marvelous, and while rich, it almost seems light.
I made this the first time over the Christmas holidays, but it’s one of those year round desserts since you can always find lemons. Soon we’ll have lots of fresh fruit for pies and cobblers, but we still have a few weeks and Mothers’ day and Easter are coming up. This would be a scrumptious dessert to serve for either occasion.
A chess pie is such an easy pie to make, just whisk the ingredients together and bake it in a partially baked pie crust. It will need to cool for a few hours. Somehow this pie does not feel as heavy as some desserts. The lemon orange combination make this pie ideal to serve after any meal.
Why you’ll love it
- The citrus flavor really shines through for a refreshing flavor!
- It’s a simple pie with easy ingredients usually on hand.
- This isn’t a heavy dessert, it’s rich in flavor but yet light to enjoy.
Where does chess pie come from
A classic chess pie gets its roots from the South when ingredients were limited. It’s a simple pie combining sugar, butter and eggs with a little cornmeal and flour to thicken it. The most common one is the lemon chess pie. There’s quite a debate as to where the name came from, but I like the theory that when asked about the pie the Southern baker said it’s “just pie”. That’s something my Southern mother-in-law would say and you don’t get more Southern then Maydean.
How to avoid a soggy pie crust
The secret is to partially cook the pie crust whether it’s a homemade pie crust or store bought.
- Roll out pie crust and place in pie pan. Refrigerate until cold then prick with a fork and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Place a cookie sheet in the oven and turn it to 425º.
- Remove the pie crust from the freezer and line it with parchment paper and place pie weights inside. These are the pie weights that I have been using for years, you will need 3 packages to fill up a pie pan. Place it on the hot cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, remove and let it cool.
What you’ll need
- Pie crust – make a 9″ pie crust or buy one from the refrigerated section of your grocery store. If you haven’t made a flaky pie crust from scratch, it’s easy to do with these simple steps.
- Lemon – you can use a zester or a cheese grater to gain all that yummy flavor from the peel of the fruit
- Stone ground yellow cornmeal – this adds texture and sweetness to the pie while helping to thicken it up
- Heavy cream – don’t substitute this ingredient, it allows the pie to thicken to the perfect consistency
- Fresh lemon juice – you will want the zest from fresh lemons, then you can juice the rest of it for more flavor
- Fresh orange juice – you can either juice from oranges or grab 100% oj and enjoy baking up a mimosa monkey bread with the leftovers
- Sugar, flour, salt, butter, eggs, vanilla
Step by step directions
Step 1: Partially bake the pie crust and let it cool.
Step 2: To the dry ingredients add melted butter and whisk in eggs one at a time, whisking briskly until it thickens. Then add the cream, juices and vanilla. Pour into the partially baked pie crust.
Step 3: Bake for 40-50 minutes until the center just slightly jiggles. Remove and allow to cool for about 3 hours.
This is a pie that you have to make in advance because it needs to cool for three hours so that the custard can set. A chess pie is normally served at room temperature, but if you don’t finish it off in a day or two, it’s still pretty yummy after it’s been refrigerated. Add a dollop of whipped cream to compliment the citrus flavor and serve with our favorite shortbread cookie, Pistachio Cranberry Shortbread.
This recipe was adapted from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. If you’re not familiar with the Elsen sisters, they opened a pie shop in Brooklyn called Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
FAQ’s and tips
A lemon chess pie is a sweet and rich pie that has a great citrus flavor in the gooey filling. It’s like a cross between lemon curd and a lemon bar.
A chess pie is similar to a buttermilk pie but the flavor and texture are different. Cornmeal is a stabilizer used in chess pie which is not true with buttermilk pie. The eggs used in each pie cooks up differently based on if there’s acid in it or not.
Yes, this is a pie that freezes well. However, pro tip is to cut the slices of the pie before you freeze them in an airtight container and then they’ll be ready to serve when you pull it out.
You can refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 3-5 days.
Feelin’ more citrus inspired recipes?
More Lemon Recipes
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Lemon Chess Pie Recipe
- 1 9 inch pie crust partially baked
- 1 large lemon zest of the lemon
- 1 ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon stone ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons butter melted
- 5 large eggs
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- 7 tablespoons fresh lemon juice juice of 3 lemons
- 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Roll out pie crust and place in pie plate. Refrigerate until chilled and prick with a fork. Then place in freezer for about 10 minutes. Place a flat cookie sheet in oven and preheat to 425º.
- Remove pie crust from freezer and line with parchment paper. Place pie weights in the center. Bake for 20 minutes until the edges are set. Remove and let cool.
- Preheat oven to 325º.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, flour and salt. Add melted butter and whisk to combine, then add eggs one at a time whisking well after each addition. Continue to whisk briskly until the filling is thick and light colored. Stir in the heavy cream then lumen juice, orange juice and vanilla.
- Pour pie filling into cooled pie crust. Bake for 40-50 minutes rotating half way through. Remove when the edges are set and center is slightly jiggly and it is golden on top. Do not over bake or the custard can separate. The filling will continue to cook as it cools. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 3-4 hours.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- Be carefully not to over bake the pie, it will continue to cook once removed from the oven.
- Plan ahead as it needs to cool for 3-4 hours.
- This pie is best served at room temperature but can be refrigerated.
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