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Lemon Chess Pie

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Pucker Up! Bright lemon meets sweet chess pie in this simple but delicious dessert.

sliced lemon chess pie in pie pan

Let’s talk about a beloved Southern classic: chess pie. It’s famous for its custard filling—a luscious blend of eggs, sugar, butter, cornmeal, and a hint of vinegar or lemon—baked into a buttery and flaky crust. The story behind the name holds a little mystery. Some say “chess” refers to an old English word for cheese (a nod to its creamy texture), while others believe it’s a playful twist on “just pie” pronounced with a Southern drawl. Among the various flavors to choose from—like buttermilk, chocolate, and coconut—lemon is my favorite. It boasts a tart-sweet flavor reminiscent of lemon bars. And here’s a bonus: while some pies beg for a homemade crust, chess pie shines even with a store-bought one, making it ideal for those times you need a quick and easy dessert. Though it’s not the showiest dessert at the table, what it lacks in flair, it more than makes up for in taste.

What You’ll Need To Make Lemon Chess Pie

ingredients for chess pie

When opting for store-bought pie crust, it’s best to use the frozen ones that come in aluminum pans. These crusts are molded into the pans, setting their shape and preventing shrinkage during baking. Conversely, rolled refrigerator crusts, which you fit into a pie dish yourself, can shrink if stretched or compressed. If you’re concerned about the aluminum pan’s appearance, pre-slice the pie and transfer the slices to a decorative pan or platter for a more elegant presentation.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Blind Bake the Crust

Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Line the unbaked crust with parchment paper (if you crumple it up, it will sit better inside the crust). Fill it with dried beans, rice, or pie weights to keep the dough flat and prevent puffing.

dried beans in parchment over pie crust

Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the parchment and weights. Continue baking for an additional 5 minutes to dry and lightly brown the bottom. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

par-baked pie crust

Step 2: Make the Filling

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and juice, vanilla, cornmeal, flour, and salt.

eggs, lemon zest and juice, sugar, vanilla, cornmeal, flour, and salt in mixing bowl

Whisk until well combined, then add the melted butter.

butter added to chess pie filling

Whisk to combine.

chess pie filling

Whisk the filling briefly to recombine and pour into the par-baked pie shell.

chess pie filling in par-baked pie crust

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Bake until just set and the surface is golden (the center may jiggle just slightly when shaken), 50 to 55 minutes.

chess pie on marble

Cool completely on wire rack, about 4 hours, then serve.

single slice of chess pie

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Lemon Chess Pie

Pucker Up! Bright lemon meets sweet chess pie in this simple but delicious dessert.

Servings: One 9-inch pie (8 slices)
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour 5 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 (9-inch) store-bought pie shell, thawed but cold (see note)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1¾ cups granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon (a heaping teaspoon, packed)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Confectioners' sugar, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the middle position.
  2. Blind bake the crust: Line the unbaked crust with parchment paper (if you crumple it up and then flatten it a bit, it will sit better inside the crust). Fill it with dried beans, rice, or pie weights to keep the dough flat and prevent puffing. Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the parchment and weights. Continue baking for an additional 5 minutes to dry and lightly brown the bottom. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
  3. Meanwhile, make the filling: Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in the granulated sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, cornmeal, flour, and salt until well combined. Whisk in the butter until the mixture is uniform.
  4. Whisk the filling briefly to recombine and pour into the par-baked pie shell. Bake until just set and the surface is golden (the center may jiggle just slightly when shaken), 50 to 55 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack, about 4 hours. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired, and serve.
  5. Make-Ahead/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The pie can be made up to 2 days ahead of time. Once baked and completely cooled, cover the pie tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring the pie to room temperature before serving to ensure the best texture and flavor. To freeze, after the pie has fully cooled, wrap it securely in plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn. Place the wrapped pie in a freezer-safe bag or container and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you're ready to enjoy the pie, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and then let it come to room temperature before serving.
  6. Note: When opting for store-bought pie crust, it's best to use the frozen ones that come in aluminum pans. These crusts are molded into the pans, setting their shape and preventing shrinkage during baking. Conversely, rolled refrigerator crusts, which you fit into a pie dish yourself, can shrink if stretched or compressed. If you're concerned about the aluminum pan's appearance, pre-slice the pie and transfer the slices to a decorative pan or platter for a more elegant presentation.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (8 servings)
  • Calories: 332
  • Fat: 15 g
  • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 47 g
  • Sugar: 44 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Sodium: 192 mg
  • Cholesterol: 147 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • I’m so glad I found this recipe! It was a hit with my family and my dad (a huge lemon dessert fan) even requested it for his birthday dessert after trying it. As a bonus, it was so easy to make!

    • — Laura on March 31, 2024
    • Reply
  • Made this pie this morning. I’m unsure how it will taste as the butter seemed to be too much as it’s leaking from
    The pie?? Once cooled I’ll taste it and see! Was making it to take to family but now I’m unsure without tasting it.

    • — Jen on March 15, 2024
    • Reply
  • It looks fabulous. I live in Germany, and it’s not easy to find a good unbaked or baked crust here. Do you have a recipe for making it myself? Thank you.

    • — Ana María on November 24, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Ana Maria, Yes, I have a pie crust recipe here. Hope you enjoy if you make it!

      • — Jenn on November 24, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    Love everything lemon!
    Can express or instant polenta be used in place of the cornmeal?
    Wishing you happy holidays!🥂

    • — Myrna on November 23, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Myrna, I think you could get away with that here. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on November 23, 2023
      • Reply
  • Just to confirm only 3 tbls of lemon juice?

    • — Michael on November 22, 2023
    • Reply
    • Correct!

      • — Jenn on November 22, 2023
      • Reply
  • Outstanding recipe!
    More chess pie flavors please.

    • — Cathy Bruning on November 21, 2023
    • Reply
  • I cannot wait to try this!! I love your recipe for lemon bars, however, I’m a low-maintenance gal and this seems super easy. I especially like the part about the crust.

    Thank you very much for this.

    • — Sue Geo on November 18, 2023
    • Reply

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