Why You'll Love It!
I'm glad you're here. Now, let's talk about this Lemon Chess Pie recipe! Lemon Chess Pie is a tart, ooey gooey pie that bakes up with a sweet delicate candy-like top crust. Made with simple ingredients and easy directions, chess pie is an old fashioned Southern favorite that everybody loves.
Are you a lemon lover? I absolutely love everything lemon. Lemon pie, lemon cake, lemon chicken, etc. So if you're here because you're wondering how to make a lemon chess pie, then you've come to the right place. And it's a super easy dessert! Not just for a summer or holiday dessert either, this chess pie is a wonderful dessert any time of the year.
What is Chess Pie?
Chess pie, a traditional Southern dessert, has several conflicting - or perhaps converging - origin stories.
One story is that a freed slave in 19th century Alabama made pies that she sold to make a living. Her pies were delicious, but had a different filling than what many people of the time recognized. When asked what kind of pies she made, the story goes she responded "oh, it's jes' pie." Her twangy "just" became "chess" in common parlance.
Another story says that the pie received its name because it was shelf-stable. People could put it on the counter in a bread box, or "chest," and the pie would keep for several days without refrigeration.
The final story I've heard about comes from renowned Southern chef Phila Hach. In a footnote in one of her (17!) cookbooks, she asserts that chess pie got its name from the use of chestnut flour, which was more commonly available in the olden days than cornmeal.
Whatever the true origin of the name, chess pie is a delicious dessert that is steeped in centuries of Southern tradition. Made with just sugar, cornmeal, flour, eggs, and lemon juice, this simple pie was arguably born from necessity when people didn't have a lot.
Deep dish pie crust - make sure you use the deep dish version; otherwise, all the pie filling won't fit in a regular size pie crust. The frozen pie crust is just fine and very handy.
Cornmeal - the cornmeal gives the top of the crust a nice, sweet crisp!
Lemon juice and lemon zest - the star of the pie! Gives the pie that classic lemon tartness.
Sugar, flour, eggs, and butter - basic ingredients you probably already have on hand. Just make sure to use real butter!
How to Make It
Like I said earlier, this lemon chess pie recipe is super easy. Buy a ready-made pie crust and pre-bake (blind bake) according to package directions. Alternatively, you could press the thawed, ready-made pie crust into a tart pan for that fancy crinkled pie look; then bake as directed.
TIP: If you're one of those bakers that makes your own pie crust, good for you! I recommend that you always double up on your favorite recipe and freeze your own pie crusts for easy use in the future. This comes in handy when you have an unexpected guest coming over and want a last-minute dessert or a crust to whip up an easy chicken pot pie.
Once you have your parbaked (or blind baked) pie crust ready to roll, the rest of this recipe is simple as pie! (Pun absolutely intended.)
Always refer to the "recipe card" for additional helpful information! In a large bowl, mix together the: sugar, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice. Then stir in butter, a little flour, and a little cornmeal. The cornmeal ensures that yummy, almost crispy topping so don't leave it out!
Pour into prepared pie crust.
Bake at 375 for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Voila!
- Place the pie on a cookie sheet, then place it into the oven to bake it. The cookie sheet makes it easier to handle in and out of the oven.
- It's OK if the pie filling doesn't appear to be fully set when you remove it from the oven. As the pie cools, it will thicken. Once completely cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar, or top with whipped cream.
- If the crust starts to brown too quickly while baking, take a strip of foil and cover just the edges of the pie crust. Continue to bake as directed.
I think chess pie is at its best flavor and texture when fully chilled, but some people eat it while it's still warm or room temperature. Either way, it's oh so delicious.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the best way to transport pie?
So now that you've made this delicious pie, what is the best way to transport it? I recently discovered a plastic carrier that's perfect for transporting pies, muffins, and cupcakes. It's the Southern Homewares 3-in-1 Plastic Holder Container. It offers easy-grip handles, a snap-tight lid, and it's made out of durable plastic. Available now on Amazon!
Are chess pie and vinegar pie the same thing?
Vinegar pie and buttermilk pie can both be categorized under the broad term "chess pie." Any sort of acid added to the eggs - whether citrus juice in this recipe, or buttermilk or vinegar in others - will help lower the temperature at which the egg will achieve a custardy consistency.
So, in short, vinegar pie is a type of chess pie. Think of it this way: all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are square. In this analogy, vinegar or buttermilk pies are the squares, and chess pies are the rectangles.
Could I substitute another citrus for lemon?
While I happen to LOVE lemon everything, there is nothing at all preventing you from trading out a different citrus for this recipe. Lime would easily be the most comparable switch and you likely wouldn't need to change anything else about the recipe.
Bitter citrus like grapefruit might require more sugar, depending on your taste preferences. Oranges and mandarins, which are naturally sweeter, would likely require less added sugar. If you try these options, please let me know how you tweaked the recipe in the comments below!
What is the best way to par-bake a pie shell? Mine always seem to collapse.
Par-baking your pie crust is an essential step in many pie recipes. It ensures that your crust gets cooked all the way through and that you avoid the dreaded soggy bottom.
The absolute best way to ensure that your pie shell remains even during this initial bake is to:
- Prick holes in the dough along the base of the pie dish - this will help to ensure that air pockets don't bubble up and give you a wobbly bottom.
- Line your unbaked pie shell with foil or parchment paper and weigh it down with dry rice or dried beans. Once you use the rice or beans as pie weights, set them aside in a separate container so you don't accidentally try to cook with them. They are reusable as pie weights for many rounds of baking. For more information on pie weights, check out this useful post.
Need more pie inspiration? Check out these other pie recipes from My Kitchen Serenity:
- chocolate chess pie
- strawberry cream pie
- banana cream pie
- Mimi's southern pecan pie
- mini pumpkin pies
If you made this deliciously easy lemon chess pie recipe, please be sure to rate and review it below. I love hearing about your kitchen adventures!
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Lemon Chess Pie
- large mixing bowl
- measuring cup(s)
- measuring spoons
- wire rack
- 1 ready-made deep dish pie crust
- 1-½ cups sugar
- 1 Tablespoon cornmeal
- 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 3 Tablespoons melted butter
- ½ cup lemon juice
- zest of one lemon
- Bake ready made pie crust according to package directions. This is known as blind baking or par baking.
- Heat oven to 375F. Combine sugar, cornmeal, flour, and eggs in large bowl using a whisk. Stir in melted butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Mix well. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake for 35 minutes or until filling is mostly set but no more than 40 minutes. Check on the pie after about 25 minutes to see if the crust is starting to brown too quickly -- see recipe note below if this happens.
- Cool on a wire rack. Transfer to refrigerator to chill. When chilled, sprinkle with powdered sugar or top with whipped cream. TIP: Can be served at room temperature but I think it's better served cold.
- Put the pie on a baking sheet for easier handling in and out of the oven; also great for catching spills and drips.
- If the crust starts to brown too quickly while baking, take a strip of foil and cover up just the edge of the crust. Continue to bake as directed.
- It's OK if the filling doesn't appear to be fully set when you remove it from the oven. As the pie cools, it will thicken.
Flashback to November 2019 photos!