Lemon Chess Pie

November  8, 2013
5 Ratings
Photo by Genti & Hyers
  • Serves 8-10 people
Author Notes

Lemon Chess has garnered a close following in the pie shop, appearing most often on the menu during the winter months, when fresh fruits are scarce on the East Coast and we source from the West Coast for its bounty of citrus. This tangy but rich custard is a longtime favorite of our pie shop customers. —ElsenEM

What You'll Need
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 2/3 cups cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 Large eggs
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 7 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. This pie uses our All-Butter Crust for a 9-inch single-crust pie, partially prebaked.
  2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  3. Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. In large bowl, stir together the lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt.
  5. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir in the melted butter, then the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition.
  6. Mix briskly until the filling is thick and light colored. Stir in the heavy cream, followed by the lemon juice, orange juice, and vanilla extract.
  7. Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking.
  8. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still wobbles slightly; it should be lightly golden on top.
  9. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set as it cools. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 3 to 4 hours.
  10. Slice and serve.
  11. The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature for 1 day.

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Sisters Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen were born and raised in the rural farm town of Hecla, South Dakota. Their mother and her sisters owned and operated the popular local restaurant, the Calico Kitchen, for which their grandmother Liz made all the pies. After pursuing different careers—Melissa in finance and Emily in sculpture and photography—they established their business in Brooklyn. They originally custom-baked pies in their apartment before opening Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie and coffee shop in 2010. Named “Artisan of the Year” by Time Out New York in 2011, they have received critical praise for their pies and have been featured in a variety of food media including the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, in the New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, and New York magazine.

8 Reviews

Kate November 23, 2021
Guys, this is delicious. Not too sweet, not too gooey (thanks to the cornmeal). This was a huge hit at Thanksgiving.
neighome November 26, 2013
I wonder if this would work in a tart pan. All my pie pans have been earmarked for other pies, but this looks delicious!
booglix November 18, 2013
Made this last night, including the very pretty braided crust (took a bit of finagling, but not too difficult). It reminded me of a lemon meringue pie without the meringue. I love lemon but don't love eggy custards, so it won't be one of my favorites, but the recipe worked well and the people who ate it liked it very much. I took it to an office pie party and it was one of the first to go.
Kim M. November 18, 2013
A lovely rendition of the Chess Pie I grew up on in Tennessee, with lemon being my favorite.
Caroline M. November 18, 2013
My favorite winter pie is sour cherry pie with cherries picked in the longest days part of summer then stashed in the freezer for a cold winter day. One bite of the tart cherries brings back the memory of picking the cherries, fingers stained red from pitting the cherries and putting up the pie in the summer heat of my kitchen! Makes me feel warm again!
gay J. November 14, 2013
Love the rim on the pie crust. No directions for that beauty?
My grandmother made lemon chess pie--I loved it but had forgotten about it. Thanks for the memory.
P November 14, 2013
No directions for design but the pastry recipe is available here:
Lindsay-Jean H. November 18, 2013
You can read about how to do a braided edge here: