Thalheimer's Lemon Chess Pie

Scholar and cookbook author Jessica B. Harris's good friend Karen Finley shares her family recipe for buttery, silky, and lusciously tart lemon chess pie. The recipe is modeled on one that Finley remembers from her childhood in Richmond, Virginia, where a lemon chess pie from Thalheimer's — a local department store — was on the cafeteria menu. For years, her family would buy and ship Thalheimer's lemon chess pie across the country every Thanksgiving. Eventually, Thalheimer's went out of business, and the family spent years trying to recreate the beloved dessert. Finally, Finley says, "My sister-in-law, Regina, joyously sent out the proclamation that she had finally found the winner — and she had! She sent this recipe to all of us and we've been enjoying it ever since. We save it for holidays or special occasions. It's always a big hit." Harris is among the many lucky friends of Finley's who have enjoyed this Lemon Chess Pie — she loves to include it on her dinner party menus at her summer home on Martha's Vineyard. It's easy to see why the pie is such a hit: The flavor of the filling is similar to a lemon bar, but a touch sweeter and with some pleasant texture from floral lemon zest.

Lemon Chess Pie
Photo: Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs 50 mins


  • 1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell (see Note)

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fine yellow cornmeal

  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (4 ounces), melted and cooled slightly

  • cup whole milk

  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Freeze pie shell until hardened, about 15 minutes. Line frozen pie shell with aluminum foil, and fill completely with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in preheated oven until crust is set and just beginning to brown around edges, 22 to 26 minutes. Remove from oven. Carefully lift foil to remove weights; discard foil. Return pie shell to oven. Bake at 375°F until bottom is set and no longer looks doughy, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

  2. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Using a fork, stir together sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt in a medium bowl. Using a fork, stir together eggs, butter, milk, and lemon zest and juice in a large bowl. Add sugar mixture to egg mixture; stir until well combined. Pour into cooled pie shell.

  3. Bake pie at 350°F until filling is lightly browned, puffed slightly, and barely jiggles in the center, 45 to 55 minutes, tenting crust edges with foil after 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning, if needed. Transfer pie to a wire rack; let cool completely, about 2 hours.

Make Ahead

Pie can be made and kept chilled up to 3 days in advance.


Associated Recipe: Master Pie Dough

Related Articles