A chess pie is a classic southern recipe. The basic pie has a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter and flour or cornmeal, and it is often flavored with a little lemon or vanilla. The origin of the name is a bit muddled, and the most cited story is that “chess” is derived from “cheese” because this pie has a texture similar to cheesecake – minus the cheese. Personally, I don’t buy that story because this pie is really nothing like a cheesecake. It is, however, unique and delicious – and definitely seems like the kind of thing that my grandma would have liked to serve, even though she wasn’t from the South.
This Lemon Chess Pie is a straightforward recipe that stays true to the roots of a classic chess pie. The filling is made with eggs, milk, butter and plenty of sugar. There is a little bit of yellow cornmeal added, which gives the custardy pie a hint of texture. I also added lemon zest and fresh lemon juice for flavor. The filling has a nice, creamy texture to it, but has some substance to it that allows the pie to be sliced and served easily. The sugar forms a nice, crisp crust on the top of the custard while the pie bakes, which is a great color contrast for the finished pie. The lemon flavor is pronounced, but it isn’t as tart as you would find in a lemon meringue pie.
I like to think of chess pie as an all purpose pie. It is easy to make and you really need very few ingredients to put one together. I know that I always have all of the filling ingredients on hand. You can use a homemade pie crust or can opt for a premade pie crust, if you want to save time. I really recommend using fresh lemon for the best flavor in this pie, as that zest puts this pie over the top makes it memorable.
Lemon Chess Pie
dough for 9-inch pie crust
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup milk (any kind)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350F.
Roll out pie dough on a lightly floured surface and fit crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Chill rolled crust in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cornmeal, salt and eggs until well combined. Whisk in the cooled, melted butter, milk, lemon juice and lemon zest until smooth.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until pie is set.
Allow to cool completely before slicing.