Lemon chess pie is an old-fashioned dessert traditionally made in the Southern United States. With both whipping cream and butter in the filling, plus cornmeal for thickening, this is a rich dessert. That being said, it's got a terrific balance of sweet and tart, and couldn't be easier to make. It's like lemon curd in pie form.
Simply whisk the ingredients together, pour the mixture into a partially baked pie crust, and bake it for about half an hour. Cool and top with whipped cream. It's so simple! Keep in mind that the pie needs time after baking to fully set so prepare accordingly.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Lemon zest: orange is a delicious substitute for lemon, and we think lime or grapefruit would be great too.
- Cornmeal: coarser grind cornmeal should be fine in this recipe, but will have more texture on the bite than fine ground.
- Use mini crusts: substitute frozen mini pie crusts and make mini lemon chess pies! The baking time will be much shorter if you do this, probably about 18 to 20 minutes, so keep your eye on the oven as the pies bake.
Step 1: beat the filling ingredients in a large bowl.
Step 2: pour the filling into the par-baked pie shell.
Step 3: bake until just set and cool fully.
Step 4: once the pie is cool, top with whipped cream and serve.
- Pop bubbles: for a nice smooth top, pop any large bubbles in the filling with a toothpick before baking.
- Bake until just set: the middle of the pie should still be just a touch wobbly when it's done. It'll fully set as it cools.
- Cool the pie crust: if using homemade crust, it must be par-baked and then fully cooled before adding the lemon filling.
We used a store-bought frozen pie crust for this recipe. If you're feeling ambitious, try our basic all-butter pie crust recipe. Store-bought pie crusts can be a bit short to hold all of the lemon filling. You may have a small amount left over.
Many bakers choose to brown the top of lemon chess pie, arguing that browning the top of the lemon filling is more traditional. To do this, place under the grill for a couple minutes but keep a close eye to prevent burning.
After cooling, the top of a traditional chess pie is often left undecorated. We love cute little whipped cream florets as garnish, but you can omit the whipped cream topping of you prefer the pie plain.
How to Store Lemon Pie
Storage: once cool keep the pie covered loosely or in a sealed container in the fridge for up to three days.
Freezing: lemon chess pie can be frozen, without the cream topping, for about a month if it's very well wrapped. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
What is the difference between a chess pie and a custard pie?
Chess pie has cornmeal added to the filling, making it slightly more toothsome. There will also always be some added acidity, which comes from the citrus for lemon chess pie, of course.
Do you refrigerate lemon chess pie?
Yes, once it's cooled fully it's best to refrigerate as it will spoil quickly at room temperature. Cover well and it'll keep for about three days.
Can I use cornstarch instead of cornmeal in chess pie?
No, but you can use corn flour (American definition). While you typically can't use the two ingredients interchangeably, it works for chess pie. Don't mix this up with cornstarch (usually called corn flour in the UK and Europe).
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Lemon Chess Pie
- baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Mixing bowl
- electric hand or stand mixer or handheld whisk
- Rubber spatula or wooden spoon
- toothpick optional
- Wire rack
- Measuring cups and spoons or a digital kitchen scale
- 1 9-inch (23-cm) pie crust partially baked
- Zest of one medium lemon
- ½ cup lemon juice about 3 medium lemons or 4 small lemons
- ½ cup 35% whipping cream
- ¼ cup butter melted
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoon yellow cornmeal fine grind
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Whipped cream for garnish optional
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF (160ºC) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, whipping cream, melted butter, eggs, sugar, cornmeal, and salt. Using an electric hand mixer, stand mixer, or a hand held whisk, mix all of the ingredients together until smooth, about one minute.
- Pour the lemon filling into the prepared pie crust. Use a toothpick to burst any larger air bubbles in the filling (optional).
- Transfer the pie to the prepared baking sheet and place it in the pre-heated oven. Bake the lemon chess pie for 32 to 35 minutes, or until the middle of the lemon is wobbly when moved, but not wet. Remove the pie from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating and serving.