I don’t know if it’s the sunshine, the daffodils or forsythia, but Spring at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina calls for the sparkly, sour sweet taste of lemon when I bake and nothing says springtime in the South like Chess Pie! There are lots of stories about why it’s call “Chess Pie” with recipes stretching back to Martha Washington. My favorite story (although probably the least likely) is that it was named by a Southern cook when someone asked what it was that smelled so good and she answered “Just pie, child! J’ess pie!”
Chess Pie is the most simple of pies, consisting of sugar, eggs, butter and a tiny bit of flour baked in a pie crust. And as with most simple things, the quality of the ingredients are what makes or breaks it. In this recipe I have paired it with a buttery tart pastry and added lemon and a touch of almond to the filling. It’s good just as it is or you can dust it with a little powdered sugar for a better presentation. I am topping mine with a fresh raspberry for our guests.
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks) cut in 8 pieces each
¼ to ½ cup ice water
¼ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
pinch of salt
Zest from one large lemon
¼ tsp almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup milk
1 tbsp flour
For the pastry:
Place the flour, salt, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse 3 or 4 times until the butter is cut in and it has the appearance of rough sand.
With the motor running, slowly pour in the ice water until the dough just starts to come together.
Remove the dough from the processor and knead it together into a ball. Flatten the ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
For the pies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray a mini-muffin or mini-pie tin with cooking spray.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll to ¼” thickness. Using a round cookie cutter, cut circles to fit your tins.
Melt the butter and put it together with the sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Whisk together until light and fluffy.
Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended.
Add the salt, almond extract, vanilla, lemon juice and milk and whisk together until it is smooth. Sprinkle the flour and lemon zest over the mixture and mix well.
Pour the filling into the prepared tins.
Bake for 17-20 minutes until set and pastry is starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool ten minutes before removing them from the tins and cooling completely on a rack.
Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar to serve or top with a fresh raspberry or strawberry.
Makes 48 mini pies.