Recipe: Buttermilk Lemon Chess Pie

I got this recipe from the November 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. That issue was devoted in part to recipes for a Southern Thanksgiving meal.

And boy, is this recipe “Southern”. Butter, buttermilk, corn meal, and sugar.

My mom is from the South but doesn’t like excessively sweet or rich desserts — except for this pie. I expected her not to like it after I made it, but she loved it. As did many in the rest of my family. Myself, I had one small piece and that was enough. It’s good . . . but wow. It’s intense. It’s like a really strong Scotch — you get done with your little bit and your tastebuds tell you “Wow! Tasty! . . . And we’re done for a while. Just letting you know.”

I made a few adjustments to the recipe, the original is here.

Buttermilk Lemon Chess Pie 

This recipe will overfill a regular 9″ pie pan, so either get a deep pie pan or be ready to deal with about a cup of extra filling.

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • Extra all-purpose flour for working the dough
  • 1/2 cup (or more) cold buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter cut into small cubes

Filling

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 5 large eggs beaten
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1-3/4 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions.

For the crust, mix flour and butter. A food processor is handy for this, but if you don’t have one you can mix by hand, just be careful not to let the butter get too warm. You want to mix until the butter pieces are about pea-sized. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk & mix until moist clumps form. Add more buttermilk a tablespoon at a time if need be. Form into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic & chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 14″ in diameter. This will be a VERY rich dough, when I made it it almost looked marbled and it tends to want to stick to the counter because of all the butter in it. Be patient. Once it is rolled out, transfer to a pie pan and press gently on the bottom and up the sides. Trim to a 1″ overhang, crimp, and fill with beans or weights (line with parchment first if need be). Bake in the oven until it begins to brown, about 30-35 minutes. Remove weights & any paper, back 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.

My crust puffed up quite a bit on the sides and in the bottom, I’m not sure if that means I didn’t use enough weight or took them out too early or what. Also, this will be a VERY thick crust.

For the filling, preheat oven to 350 F. Thoroughly mix the sugars, cornmeal & flour in one bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. The mixture may look kind of clumpy or odd once everything is in there. Mix in the dry ingredients slowly. I’ve reduced the sugar a bit from what was in the original recipe, so you might want to heat just a little bit of the filling over the stovetop, in the oven or in the microwave so you can test it now & decide if you want to add more sugar. I doubt you’ll want to add more lemon, it doesn’t look like much in the recipe but what’s there is suprisingly powerful.

Pour filling into the cooled crust, back at 350 F for 60-75 minutes until custard is set at the edges but still jiggles a little in the center.

Let cool before serving. Cut pie into eighths, as it is so rich most people won’t be able to handle the usual sixth of a piece (or at least, most of the pies around here are cut into sixths . . . .)

One thing interesting about this pie is how much the cornmeal swells up in the filling, creating an unusual texture. I’m not sure how it would work with a regular pie crust, but I might give that a try one day as the super-rich and thick crust + super rich filling is almost too much when eaten together.

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