When Life Gives You Lemons...Make Lemon Chess Pie

As the days become longer I'm starting to notice the familiar smell of BBQ making its way through the neighborhood. We kicked off the season with neighbors recently and made sure to follow the meal with a true, Southern dish. Lemon Chess Pie. The tangy lemon custard and slight crunch from the cornmeal make this pie one for the books.

I've often read of "chess pie" in my cookbooks and wondered why it's called "chess pie." As a visual thinker, I always imagined the pie with a checkerboard appearance...Thanks to Wikipedia, I can enlighten you with a bit of trivia. The pie seems to have no relation to the game of chess, which has led to much speculation as to the origin of this term. Some theorize that the name of the pie traces back to its ancestral England, where the dessert perhaps evolved from a similar cheese tart, in which the archaic "cheese" was used to describe pies of the same consistency even without that particular ingredient present in the recipe. One folk etymology suggests that it was referred to as "just pie", which soon shortened to "jus' pie" or "jess' pie," and then corrupted to "chess pie". There is also a theory that the word "chess" pie comes from the piece of furniture that was common in the early South called a pie chest or pie safe. Chess pie may have been called chest pie at first because it held up well in the pie chest.

Now that you're enlightened, here's the recipe (which comes to us via L&L friend, Janice--thanks Janice!).

Lemon Chess Pie

from the March 2010 issue of Cook's Country Magazine

Use your favorite single crust pie dough. Regular yellow cornmeal (not stone ground) works best here. Make the filling before baking the shell so the cornmeal has time to soften. Adding the filling when the pie shell is still warm reduces the pie's cooking time slightly.

5 large eggs
1 3/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest and 3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 (9-inch) pie shell, chilled

1. Make filling. Whisk eggs in large bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk in 1 3/4 cups sugar, lemon zest and juice, cornmeal, and salt until combined. Whisk in butter.

2.Bake crust. Poke pie shell all over with fork. Refrigerate 40 minutes, then freeze 20 minutes. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Bake shell until small bubbles appear and surface begins to look dry, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325.

3. Bake pie. Whisk filling briefly to recombine. Scrape filling into prepared pie shell and bake until surface is light brown and center jiggles slightly when shaken, 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining teaspoon sugar. Cool completely on wire rack, about 4 hours. Serve.

Pie can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for 2 days.

Have a lemon recipe we should try? Send it to us here.

janice  – (April 9, 2010 at 7:35 AM)  

Did you make your own crust? I'm thinking of making this soon and I can't decide if I want to go "all the way"!

Leslie  – (April 11, 2010 at 2:28 PM)  

I admit I didn't go "all the way." Used a store-bought crust.

janice  – (April 16, 2010 at 4:26 PM)  

Haha good to know even Leslie the baking queen cheats once in a while. :)

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