Lemon Chess Pie

Chess pie, a classic Southern dessert, is basically a very simple custard in a pie crust. A common variation, like the one here, uses lemon juice. The origin of the name is not clear, but some speculate that it's based on an old custom of calling custard "cheese." Angie Mosier's take on the pie has a wonderfully tender, flaky crust and a sweet, puckery filling.


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  • Active:
  • Total Time:
  • Servings: makes one 9-inch pie
  • Time(Other): plus cooling

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  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon chilled solid vegetable shortening
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

How to make this recipe

  1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt until combined. Add the butter and shortening and pulse just until the butter is the size of small peas. Sprinkle the ice water over the mixture and pulse 4 or 5 times, until the pastry just comes together. Turn the pastry out onto a floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 14-inch round. Roll the pastry around the rolling pin and unroll it over a 9-inch pie plate; ease the pastry into the plate without stretching. Trim the overhanging dough to 1/2 inch and tuck it under itself; crimp the edge decoratively. Freeze the pie shell just until chilled, about 5 minutes.

  3. Line the pastry with parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans and bake for about 20 minutes, until nearly set. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake the pie shell for 5 minutes longer, until set but not colored.

  4. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar. Add all of the remaining ingredients one at a time and in order, whisking until smooth.

  5. Pour the filling into the warm pie shell. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the custard is golden and nearly set but still quite jiggly; cover the edge of the pie shell with foil halfway through baking. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool completely before serving.

Make Ahead

The pie can be refrigerated overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Contributed By Published February 2007

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