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Lemon Chess Pie is a such a classic southern dessert that yields phenomenal flavor. The curd-like filling rests on a flaky pie crust and it all comes together with just a handful of ingredients!

Overhead view of a single slice of lemon chess pie on a white plate.

Lemon Chess Pie

Another fantastic reader request coming at you today – Lemon Chess Pie!

I received an email several months ago asking if I could make a lemon chess pie. I had never had chess pie before so I put the request on the back burner until I had the chance to taste one then try to make one of my own.

The incredible thing about this pie is it is so easy. You bake the crust, whisk the filling together and pour it into the hot crust, then pop it back in the oven until the filling is almost set.

The filling reminds me of my lemon curd. It’s tangy, sweet, and oh so creamy. You should know by now I’m a sucker for creamy desserts. If you need a reminder, check out my honey pie!

Overhead view of lemon chess pie with a lemon slice on top.

Why is it called chess pie?

It’s debatable as to why they call it chess pie. Some say it is a mispronunciation of “cheese” pie while others say it got its name because it was served to men as they played chess. However it came about, we do know it is a classic recipe commonly made in the American South.

What does lemon chess pie taste like?

It tastes just like lemon curd and this is why I love it so much. Classic chess pie uses vinegar and reminds me of vinegar pie but the lemon version is by far the best. If you are a fan of lemon curd and lemon bars, you’ll love this pie.

Do you need to refrigerate lemon chess pie?

You can serve this pie immediately after it has cooled to room temperature without refrigerating it. If you have leftovers, it is best to refrigerate them. The pie will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

Overhead view of two slices of lemon chess pie on white plates.

Ingredients for lemon chess pie

Pie crust – Make your own homemade pie crust or use store-bought refrigerated pie dough.

Sugar – The tanginess of lemons needs to be offset with a good amount of sugar. This recipe uses just enough sugar to do that without being overly sweet.

Lemons – The recipe calls for the zest and juice which is around one to two lemons depending on their size.

Cornmeal & flour – Both are used together to stabilize the filling.

Butter & eggs – There wouldn’t be a curd-like filling without butter and eggs!


How to make lemon chess pie?

Step 1: Bake the crust

Prebake the pie crust until it looks dry and begins to bubble, about 8 minutes.

overhead view of bake pie crust

Step 2: Prepare the filling

Whisk the ingredients for the filling together and pour them into the hot pie crust.

angled view of lemon filling being poured into a pie crust

Step 3: Bake the pie

Bake the pie for an additional 40 minutes or until the edges are set but the center jiggles slightly when shaken.

overhead view of a finished lemon chess pie
Angled view of a slice of lemon chess pie with a fork taking a bite out.

Tips for lemon chess pie recipe

  • Freeze the pie crust for 20 minutes before putting it into the oven. This helps it keep its shape and it won’t “shrink” as much.
  • Whisk the ingredients for the filling together while the crust is baking. The filling needs to be poured right into the hot crust so have it ready when the crust comes out of the oven.
  • You don’t need to refrigerate the pie before serving it. Simply let it cool on a wire rack for 4 hours then it can be served. Do store leftovers in the refrigerator, though.

More lemon recipes you’ll love

  1. Lemon Curd
  2. Lemon Bars
  3. Lemon Lime Cupcakes

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Overhead view of lemon chess pie with a lemon slice on top.

Lemon Chess Pie

Yield: 10 Servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 48 minutes
Additional Time: 5 hours 20 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 33 minutes

Lemon Chess Pie is a such a classic southern dessert that yields phenomenal flavor. The curd-like filling rests on a flaky pie crust and it all comes together with just a handful of ingredients!

Ingredients

  • 1 (9-inch) homemade pie crust, or use store-bought refrigerated pie dough
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, from about 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, from about 1-2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal - SEE NOTE 1
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Instructions

  1. Prepare the pie crust according to the recipe and chill for at least 1 hour. You need only half the dough so freeze the second half for use at a later date.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pie crust to fit a 9-inch pie dish. Place in pie dish; trim off any excess along the edges. Flute the edges with fingertips. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Freeze for 20 minutes.
  3. Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 450°F.
  4. Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornmeal, flour, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in the butter. Set aside until the crust is finished baking.
  5. Bake the crust for about 8 minutes, until it looks dry and small bubbles begin to form on the surface. Remove and lower the oven temperature to 325°F.
  6. Give the filling a quick whisk then pour it into the hot pie crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the surface is light brown and the center jiggles slightly when shaken.
  7. Cool on a wire rack for 4 hours before serving.

Notes

  1. Use regular yellow cornmeal not stone-ground for best results.

Make ahead tip

  1. Pie will keep for up to 2 days covered in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 189Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 4gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 95mgSodium: 213mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 5g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Since different brands of ingredients have different nutritional information, the values shown are just an estimate.

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18 Comments

  1. I found this recipe when doing a search for lower sugar lemon Chess Pie. I made it for Christmas. I was told that the lemon flavor was good but there is too much sugar in the pie. Does anyone know how much I can reduce the sugar and still get a good flavor?

    1. My recipes aren’t meant to be low-sugar recipes. There are websites that focus on low sugar or sugar-free desserts. You may have better luck looking to them for lemon chess pie with reduced sugar.

  2. I made this pie for Thanksgiving and everyone loved it…kids included. They now want a repeat performance for Christmas! It was easy to make and a delight to eat.

  3. Very good, used fresh lemon juice. The pie wasn’t super sweet, just the right level of sweetness, and very smooth. This is my go to recipe now. All the things people dislike about chess pie are missing with this recipe.

  4. I followed the recipe as written, but after letting my pie cool for 4+ hours it was still extremely gooey, very little solidity. Any tips?

    1. The filling is meant to be soft and creamy, much like homemade lemon curd. But it shouldn’t be so soft it’s oozy. Double-check that you are measuring ingredients correctly and use an oven thermometer to check your oven temperature. Also, depending on your oven, it may take a few minutes longer to bake. Use the visual cues noted in the recipe to check for doneness before removing the pie from the oven.

  5. James Wood says:

    @450 for 29 minutes in my oven resulted in a very burned mess.

    It’s very possible my oven runs hot. I burned an $80 macadamia/pistachio baklava for Christmas too – I cook, an awful lot, but I don’t bake much because my wife is pretty low-carb. Baked goods don’t tend to fit well with that – and the things I do use the oven for, such as stuffed peppers also tend to be much more forgiving. I’ll be testing my oeven with my dual probe in the near future, and will follow-up before offering a final rating.

    Based on other recipes, I suspect 350 might be the more appropriate temp, and 45 minutes to an hour a more appropriate time.

    We’re also still gonna try it tonight after it cools for 4 hours as prescribed.

    1. Nowhere in the recipe does it say to bake the pie for 29 minutes at 450. The crust alone bakes at 450 for 8 minutes then the temperature is to be lowered to 325 for the rest of the baking time.

  6. Growing up in the South, the tale that was always told was that back in the old days, someone would ask, ‘what kind of pie is that?’ and the answer would be, ‘it’s jes’ pie’ (it’s just pie). Over years, it became ‘chess’ pie. Never, ever heard of it being served to men playing chess.

    1. I am so glad you wrote the origin of “Jes” pie! I, also, have never heard the story of men playing chess and eating pie. Even my Grandmother and Great Aunte’s in Indiana told me the ‘it’s just pie’ story! Thank you ?

  7. Evelynmaria says:

    I was gonna do the King Arthur Flour recipe but they call for a whole 3/4 cups of lemon juice to about the same ingredients as you and i was going to combine you and the other one together but i dont know which is better for the lemon juice, any thoughts??

    1. I’m not familiar with the other recipe so I can’t give you advice on that. But, 3/4 cup of lemon juice is going to yield a very tart pie. If that’s something you like, use that one.

    2. 3\4 cups is in my Mom’s recipe but we love lemon. Everyone we’ve made this pie for loved it. You can make adjustments to any recipe. Play around with it. We also adjusted the amount of flour for consistency and not taste the flour.

  8. Tresha Lusk says:

    Hello, should I pre bake the pie shell if it’s store brought ?

    1. Yes, you’ll still need to blind bake the crust according to the recipe instructions.

  9. This looks great but with a Casein allergy, could I use Ghee instead of butter

  10. Anything lemon is a hit in my book! Love how creamy this pie looks!!