Chess pie is a dessert that doesn’t give anything away in its name. It’s a Southern classic pie with a custard base made up of eggs, butter and sugar. So far as I can tell, there is no one standard version of the chess pie and I’ve had many variations of it before, some that had a very dense, sweet, eggy filling and some that were more like a classic custard. The flavors have ranged from vanilla to chocolate to citrus. One of my favorites is a lemon chess pie. The way I make it, the pie has a lemon curd-like filling that is similar to that of a lemon bar, with a thin cake-like layer on top.
This pie only requires a few ingredients, so it’s important that you don’t skip out on using fresh lemon juice in your filling. It will definitely give you the best flavor, plus it will provide plenty of zest for making the filling bright and citrusy. There is a little bit of flour in the filling that will help form the sponge cake layer on the top of the cake. This top layer gives the pie a beautiful golden brown finish and adds a little substance to the pie. The filling itself is very light and smooth, with a lovely lemon flavor that is sure to be a hit with citrus-lovers.
I like a graham cracker pie crust for this particular pie. They’re easy and provide a nice crisp contrast to the silky pie filling, as well as adding a little extra flavor to each bite. You could certainly use a regular pie crust as long as you blind-bake it and let it cool before adding the filling (a totally uncooked crust won’t be cooked through with this filling, so the crust must be par-baked if using pie dough).
Lemon Chess Pie
1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350F. Place pie crust on a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well-combined. Add in butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla, flour and salt and whisk until smooth.
In a medium bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently whisk into the lemon mixture until batter is uniform, and no big streaks of egg white remain. Pour into prepared crust.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until filling is set and the top of the pie is a dark golden color. Allow pie to cool on the pan for 20-30 minutes, then transfer it to a wire rack or to the countertop to cool (moving the pie while the filling is too hot may crack the crust).
Pie may be served slightly warm or chilled. If serving warm, allow pie to cool for at least 1 hour before serving.