Just when the heft of the Thanksgiving spread causes you to give in to the sensation to unbutton your pants for a bit of relief, you waddle to the dessert table to see what could possibly out-do the main event. You and your tight pants are met with a bevy of sinfully rich, decadent desserts. This year I’ve been on quite a citrus kick and I find it quite refreshing to have something tart like this for the “sign off” on the best and most anticipated meal of the year. Lemon Chess Pie is that type of sweet. It is an old school take-you-back custard pie that is smooth and rich, nearly reminiscent of lemon bars but more filling + lard pastry = way different.
This pie comes with a story. When I was recently in NYC (for the Wine and Food Festival sponsored by Food Network) I had a bucket list of places I wanted to go to. Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a fabulous pie shop in Brooklyn and I wanted/needed/absolutely had to go. The bonus of it all was meeting one of the owners of the shop at the NYCWFF event prior to even going into the shop. Emily Elsen was her name, she was so sweet and down to earth. She is a 3rd (or more) generation pie baker from South Dakota. At the event they featured their Salty Honey Pie and it was out of this world. In my wheelhouse there are wheels made of salt and wheels made of honey. I loved it. My husband and I visited the pie shop, and being the NYC newbie I was I had scoped the menu out ahead of time and decided I would, without a doubt, have a slice of their cult-followed Lemon Chess Pie. When we arrived at their cute pie shop in Brooklyn I noticed that the featured “chess pie” of the day was Buttermilk Chess Pie. I gladly ordered a slice and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thoroughly. They have a pie baking book that came out a week after we were in the shop, swooooooon. My copy is on the way and I’m so excited to make more pies out of it. I came across their Lemon Chess Pie recipe on another blog they were recently featured on. I can tell you that it is divine and it got rave reviews at Thanksgiving this year. Plus if you’ve attended my “Blue Ribbon Bakers” pie class you will know the first thing I preach is “bake seasonally” and this time of the year citrus is abundant in the warmer climates… so go for it already!
Purchase The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop here.
Enjoy this little slice of sunshine in the raw-chill of winter.
Old-Fashioned Lard Pastry for Pies
1 1/4 C flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C lard, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vinegar (white or apple cider)
4-5 TBSP ice water
Combine dry ingredients, cut lard into dry mixture until pea sized crumbs remain. Add all wet ingredients. Stir lightly and form into a ball. Place mixture on plastic wrap, cover, pat into a disk shape and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When ready, roll out into a 13 inch circle. Fit to 9” standard pie shell, fold excess underneath edges, crimp decoratively. Refrigerate 20 minutes.
Blind Baking: Dock the prepared crust gently with a fork 25 times on the bottom and sides of pastry to prevent puffing. Blind bake the shell with a foil collar around crust and parchment and pie weights/dry beans to weight the crust down. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, when crust is set remove pie weights/beans and parchment. Return to oven and bake another 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool while you assemble filling.
Luscious Lemon Chess Pie Filling
*Adapted from Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Brooklyn, NY *original recipe featured on Food52 here.
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 2/3 C of granulated sugar
1 TBSP stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 TBSP flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
5 Large eggs
2/3 C heavy cream
1/2 C fresh lemon juice (from about 3 small lemons)
3 TBSP fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp Tahitian vanilla extract
This pie uses a par-baked pie shell. 9” or 10” size may be used.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.
In large bowl, rub zest of lemon and sugar together to perfume the sugar with the oils of the zest. Then stir in the cornmeal, flour, and salt.
Stir in the melted butter, then the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition.
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. (Any type of vanilla extract may be used, I love the light, floral fruitiness of Tahitian vanilla in pastries and pies.)
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. (This makes an abundant amount of filling for my typical 9” pie plates so I pour the excess in a ramekin and eat it for a decadent dessert later!)
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.
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.
Be careful not to over bake 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.
*An optional dusting of powdered sugar over the cooled pie is pretty if desired.
The pie will keep refrigerated for 2-3 days and at room temperature for 1-2 days. It never lasts that long in our house!