Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lemon Chess Pie

Now I don't know where you stand on the question of "Cake versus Pie."  Frankly, it doesn't much matter to me.  What does matter is this pie.  This pie is good.  Is it better than cake?  Who cares.  Just make the pie, and eat it.  Trust me.  When there's pie, everyone wins.

So what the heck is a "Chess Pie?"  Well...nobody really knows.  As a class of pies, they're generally sweet and custardy and often involve a bit of corn meal.  This particular chess pie covers sweet and custardy, but I stick to flour, since the cornmeal can give a bit of odd grit to the smooth custard of our particular specimen.

The name "Chess Pie" is the real mystery.  Theories abound, but nobody knows why it actually applies.  Experts generally agree that it has nothing to do with the game of chess, but that aside, nobody really knows.  Is it related to cheese?  To chests?   To the poorly pronounced word "just?"  Could be.  You should ponder this while you eat the pie.

It's a simple pie to make, especially if you cheat like me and use pre-made crust.  You'll need a pair of 9" pie crusts - frozen are fine.  Lemons, naturally - both for juice and for zest.  The rest is comprised of milk, sugar, flour, butter, and a whole bunch of eggs - it is a custard, after all.

First, throw your butter and sugar into a bowl and beat into submission.  It should be nice and fluffy.

Now add your eggs and milk and mix well.  The consistency will start to look quite unpleasant, as seen in the terribly-lit photograph above.  Fear not.

Now for the fun tedious part - lemon zest.  The pie gets a whole lot of flavor from fresh lemon zest, so we can't skimp here.  You'll want 3-4 tablespoons, which involves a whole lot of zesting.  You might consider promising a significant other or small child a slice of pie in exchange for taking a turn in the zesting process.

Once you've got your zest, halve the lemons and squeeze out a good 1/2 cup of juice.  No need for a special uni-tasker juicer - just squeeze each lemon half between the handles of your tongs.  It's really easy and quite speedy.

With the lemon juice and zest added, throw in two tablespoons of flour and give it one last good mixing.  You'll find that our custard still looks...well, about the same.  Trust me, it will be delicious in the end, and baking will do its appearance a world of good.

Pour your custard into the pair of pie shells.  If you're using frozen shells with wimpy pans beneath them, you'll probably want to put the pair on a baking sheet.  Safety first!  Split the filling evenly between them, and it's time to bake.

40 minutes at 350 does wonders for a formerly-homely pie.

It's worth noting that baking time on this recipe can vary quite a lot - I've had one pie take as long as an hour to really set up.  When the custard is nicely set and starts developing some cracks along the top, it's done.  A knife poked in should also come out clean.

After letting them cool for a few minutes, refrigerate your pies a minimum of 1-2 hours before serving.  It goes particularly well with coffee.


Recipe: Lemon Chess Pie

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes   |   Cook Time: 40 minutes   |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 6-8.

  • 2 9" Pie Shells, frozen
  • 4 whole Lemons, which will become:
    • 1/2 cup Lemon Juice
    • 3-4 Tbsp Lemon Zest
  • 1 1/2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 Eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Butter
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose Flour

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add beaten eggs and milk and mix well.

Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and flour.  Mix until smooth.

Pour filling into two 9" pie shells.

Set shells on a baking sheet, and bake 40 minutes until custard is set, golden on top, and beginning to crack.

Refrigerate 1-2 hours before serving.

1 comment:

  1. Deeeeeee-licious! I'd love to have this again and again!