In keeping with the whole Building My Pie Recipe Collection Project, a couple weeks ago I tried a new recipe. Taken from Ashley English’s A Year of Pies, Lemon Lime Chess Pie is a seasonally appropriate sugary, citrusy, custardy, zippy delight.
Traditional Chess Pie is essentially a mixture of eggs, sugar and butter. It is sweet and oh-so-rich. I absolutely LOVE it, but I know some people find it a little too intense. The addition of lots of citrus in this recipe cuts the sweetness and makes it more like a lemon tart.
Incidentally, do you know why it’s called a “chess” pie? There are a few different guesses, but according to Ashley English, they were probably originally called “chest” pies, describing pies with so much sugar they could be cooled and stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated. Interesting, right?
Anyhoo, just a little factoid for you…now on to the making and baking.
Let’s talk about crusts first. If you want to use a pre-made store bought crust, that is just fine by me. I’m not a snob about it, so do what you like. I don’t know your life. Personally, I like to make my own crusts, and I use Paula Deen’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe. I know she has seriously fallen out of a favor recently (deservedly so…racism = not cool), but that doesn’t change the fact that this pie crust recipe is quite good. It’s for a double crust, so I halve it for recipes like this one that only require a bottom crust.
Ashley English’s recipe does not call for a blind-baked crust, but these days I am in constant pursuit of a non-soggy bottom on my pies. I had a really horrible apple pie experience at Thanksgiving where the crust was basically still raw on the bottom. Soooo, I decided to pre-bake my crust just slightly. I blind-baked it with pie weights for only about 5 minutes, and then for another 3 minutes or so without the pie weights. The crust was far from completely cooked, but blind-baked set it up and got it a little bit on its way before I added the filling. I think it made a positive difference, but you could certainly just pour the filling straight into a cold, uncooked pie crust. If you blind-bake, set the crust aside to cool while you prep the rest of the pie so that it’s not piping hot when you add the filling.
Now on to that filling!
Basically, you need a whole lotta sugar, lemons, limes and eggs. The other ingredients seem negligible in comparison.
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons grated lime zest
Combine the sugar, salt and cornmeal in a large bowl. Even though I said above that the non-sugar/citrus/egg ingredients seem negligible, I actually think cornmeal is a critical ingredient in a chess pie. Those few tablespoons give the filling a pleasant little bit of texture and help the top to get a little bit of a crunch that contrasts nicely with the custardy smooth filling beneath.
You can leave it out if you don’t have any or if you object to cornmeal for some reason, but I really think it adds something so I wouldn’t leave it out unless you have to.
Set the dry ingredients aside while you melt the butter and put some muscle into zesting and juicing your lemons and limes. I used the zest of 2 lemons and 2 limes and the juice of about 1.5 lemons and 2 limes to make up the requisite amounts. You may need more or less than that depending on the size of your citrus.
Add the melted butter, eggs, citrus juice and zest to the dry ingredients and whisk it all together.
Pour the fillings into your prepared crust (blind-baked or not):
Bake at 350F (180C) for 40-45 minutes or until set but still a little jiggly-wiggly in the middle. It’ll set up the rest of the way as it cools. If you don’t want the top to brown too much, then cover it with foil part way through baking. I didn’t really mind some color (and crunch!) on the top of my pie, so I didn’t cover it at all. Maintaining a bright, vibrant yellow color after baking would be nice though, so do whatever you like.
Behold, the finished product!
Pretty durn tasty. Tart and sweet and smooth with just a little texture throughout. Yum. This one’s a keeper.
Do you like chess pie? Have you tried any other variations on the classic version?