I went back to Los Angeles for a quick visit a few weeks ago. There was Chess Pie – it was a divine.
I spare my parents from picking me up at the airport, and I still have my house key on my ring, so I came back home to not much fanfare save for my dad in the kitchen meticulously kneading together a pie crust.
He mentioned wanting to perfect his Lemon Chess Pie which… if you were to ask me… was already pretty dang perfect.
I moseyed into the kitchen the following morning to my dad taking his parbaked crust out of the oven. Ok ok.. we’re on track.
Later that evening my dad took his prized pie out of the oven. It was golden but pale, puffed lightly with the slightest jiggle in the center. The secret, according to dad (who is right about all things) is baking the pie in a cold oven. Allowing the pie to gently bake as the oven preheats to temperature.
I was skeptical.
Skeptical until the following morning when I sliced a generous piece of the cooled pie, packed it precariously in a tupperware and took it with me to the airport, headed back to New Orleans. I found some coffee at the airport, a disposable fork and had pie for breakfast. It was so smooth, so creamy, heavenly really. The smoothest texture of a pie I’ve ever encountered – almost like a firm pudding – in the best sense of pudding.
I told dad. I sent him my praise. Two days later I received the thoughtfully typed recipe.
I’m sharing the recipe with you today. We are blessed indeed.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for Dad’s Perfect Lemon Chess Pie recipe:
• homemade pie crust. We’ve made pie crust before.
• lemon juice and lemon zest
• melted unsalted butter
• large eggs and egg yolks, at room temperature
• cornstarch and cornmeal to thicken the filling
• granulated sugar
• evaporated milk
• kosher salt
• vanilla extract or vanilla bean
I’m of the belief that if you’re going to make one pie crust, you might as well make two. It’s nice to have an extra pie crust in the freezer for emergency pies.
Crimp the edges and allow your pie crust to chill for at least an hour before rolling it out and shaping it into the pie plate.
We’re going to par-bake our crust. Trust me on this one. This is a step that I usually skip, but because we’re baking our pie filling from a cold oven we need to give the crust a proper hot-shock and quick-bake in the oven before the filling goes in.
I know how you feel about parbaking a crust. It’s the same way I feel about par-baking a crust. Terrible.
The crust always shrinks. I never quite do it right. WHYYY.
How to parbake a pie crust for chess pie:
- Freeze your shaped pie crust in the pie pan for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.
- Lightly spray a piece of parchment paper (aluminum foil in a pinch) with non-stick cooking spray and place it spray-side-down into the frozen pie crust.
- Fill the pie to the BRIM with pie weights (mine are the economical kind – dried beans). Go as high as the crimped edges with the beans. The weight will keep the edges from sinking into the pan.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 375.
- Carefully remove the weights and parchment. How? Honesty… just as best as you can.
- Gently prick just a few holes in the bottom of the pie crust with the tines of a fork. Just to keep the pie from puffing as it bakes for a few more minutes.
- Bake the pie for 4-7 minutes for just to bake the center.
Ya did it! That wasn’t so bad.
Turn the oven off and allow it to cool while you make the filling.
Start with the sugar and lemon zest.
Rub the lemon zest into the sugar in a large bowl. This will release the citrus oil and make the pie extra lemony. Baker’s tricks – we got em.
Add the egg yolks and whole egg. The eggs bring richness and structure to the pie and we thank them for it.
Whisk in cornmeal for texture, cornstarch for thickening and salt for flavor. Everyone has their job in this mixture.
Lastly, melted butter because duh and evaporated milk.
Evaporated milk is canned and has less water than refrigerated milk. It’s more rich. It’s more wealthy (that’s a joke). We’re into it.
If you don’t have evaporated milk on hand and wanted to use heavy cream I would understand. You’re wild.
Juice a lemon and add a few tablespoons to the filling.
And pour the pie filling into the cooled parbaked crust.
Place it on the center rack of a cool oven. Set the oven temperature for 300 degrees and allow the pie to slowly bake until set in the center and puffed around the edges.
Like this little dream.
The pie will deflate as it cools. I chilled mine overnight as I think this pie is best served chilled, with whipped cream and hot coffee.
Also grab a doily your mom might have left at your house. It could come in handy for decorating the pie.
This is totally optional but the invitation is to place a clean doily over the surface of the pie and dust it generously with powdered just before serving.
Remove the doily and magic! (For a few minutes until the powdered sugar inevitably dissolves.)
You could also dollop the pie with whipped cream just before serving!
Slice and enjoy with whipped cream.
This pie is a sweet little dream. Lightly lemoned. Crisp buttery crust. Silky smooth. Dad nailed it.Print
For the Crust:
- 2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, grated on a box grater
- 6 tablespoons cold water plus 2 to 3 tablespoons more if your dough is dry
For the Filling:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon corn meal
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 10 ounces evaporated milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla or 1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped and added to the sugar
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- To make the crust, in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add cold, grated butter and, using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture. Quickly break the butter down into the flour mixture, some butter pieces will be the size of oat flakes.
- Create a well in the butter and flour mixture and pour in 6 tablespoons of cold water. Use a fork to bring to dough together. Try to moisten all of the flour bits. Add more water if necessary. On a lightly floured work surface, dump out the dough mixture. It will be moist and shaggy. That’s perfect. If you find the dough needs more moisture, add a bit more. Press and knead the dough into a disk.
- Divide the dough in two and gently knead into two disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- To assemble the pie, remove one of the pie dough disks from the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into about a 13-inch round. Roll the dough a few strokes, then use your fingers to move the emerging circle around the floured surface. This ensures that the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface. The circle won’t be perfect, that’s ok.
- Try not to get any rips in the rolled out dough, but if you do, they can be patched together with extra dough. When you roll the dough and you can see it start springing back, that means that the butter is warming and the crust shouldn’t be rolled out anymore. Gently lift the 13-inch round from the floured surface and center in a deep 9-inch round pie dish.
- Place the unrolled pie crust in a freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to 1 month. To use, thaw the crust disk in the refrigerator overnight before rolling and shaping in the pie dish.
- Freeze the rolled and shaped pie crust for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees F to par bake the crust.
- Remove the slightly frozen crust. Lightly spray a piece of parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray. Place the paper, spray side down into the chilled pie crust. Fill the crust with pie weights to the absolute brim,
- Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Carefully remove the pie weights and gently prick the center of the pie crust with the tines of a for three or four times. Return to the oven and bake for another 4 minutes until the center just sets. Remove from the oven, turn the oven off, and allow the pie crust to cool.
- To make the filling, place sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla bean (if using) in a medium bowl. With your fingers, work the lemon zest and vanilla into the sugar until the sugar is fragrant.
- Whisk in eggs until well incorporated.
- Whisk in cornmeal, cornstarch, and salt until well combined.
- Add the lemon juice, stir.
- Stir in the melted butter and evaporated milk.
- Slowly pour the filling into the partially baked pie shell and place on the middle rack of a cool oven. Turn oven onto 300º. Then set timer for 1 hour and 5 minutes.
- Very low-temperature baking is key to a tender filling that doesn’t get too brown on top. Bake until filling does not jiggle in a wave-like motion and is set to the touch—about 1 hour and 5 minutes, depending on the oven.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Serve at room temperature or chill the pie overnight to set and serve chilled with lightly sweetened whipped cream.