Lemon Chess Tart

October 14, 2011

Why do some drivers insist on keeping their cars 10-inches away from the rear of mine, as though we're caught in some cosmic, magnetic force field. Can't they see the gigantic tank going 10 miles under the speed limit that's right in front of me?

I'm the Jan Brady of the road. It seems like I'm almost always sandwiched between a slow driver and a speedaholic. But maybe we all think of ourselves this way...as good drivers who run into not-so-good drivers. I'm sure if I struck up a conversation with the tortoise and the hare, both would complain about each other, and me for being in the way of their unspoken feud.

Food cravings hit me at random. Of course it's not front-page news for me to want something with lemons, but it's rather odd that I suddenly wanted to make a lemon chess pie during a period when my car felt like an aesthetic piece of lettuce, separating the meat from the bun. Thankfully the grocery store wasn't too far out of my way.

Is it weird to love grocery shopping? I always get excited when I pull into the parking lot.

This tart is sublime! The crust is made using your hands, as opposed to a food processor.

Please don't let that intimidate you. I know the food processor is fast and efficient and it's still the second love of my kitchen (after the stand-mixer), but when you use your hands to make something, it feels like you completed a difficult test without cheating. Plus, I think the results are even flakier!

Normally I would add more lemon to a recipe, but this was spot-on. The filling is silky, tart, and luscious. It's a perfect companion to the buttery crust. A few people, I won't name names but they're usually the lead-foot drivers, felt that the filling was not sweet enough. So if you're making this for someone who likes their desserts less tart and more sweet, add a little bit more sugar. But if you're a true lemon lover, you will adore this little tart just the way it's meant to be, bold and tart.

Lemon Chess Tart
Makes 1 (9 or 10-inch) tart

Flaky Tart Crust Ingredients (makes enough for 2 double-crusted 9-inch pies, or 2 (10-inch) tarts)
5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon granulated sugar
12 Tablespoons (that's 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (they don't need to be uniform)
1 cup of ice water

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Toss in the chilled butter pieces and, using a pastry cutter or the tips of your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until the texture becomes coarse and crumbly.
Add the chilled pieced of shortening and again, work it into the dough until it becomes crumbly.
Add the ice water and mix just until the water is incorporated and the dough sticks together when pinched. Try not to over-work the dough or the crust will lose some of it's flakiness.
Because the dough is very sticky, lightly flour your hands before pulling it out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured surface.
If you're only making one crust (this is all you'll need for the lemon chess tart), divide the dough in half.
Pat each *half* into a block. Wrap each block separately and tightly in plastic wrap. Chill the half you're going to be using for at least 1 hour.

*The other half can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 1 month (if freezing the dough, be sure to add another layer of plastic wrap). The frozen dough will need to be defrosted before you can use it, so transfer it to the refrigerator 1 day before you plan on baking with it.*

Have an ungreased 9-10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom on hand.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and shape it into a ball. Working on a floured surface, flatten the ball slightly and roll it into a 14-inch circle that's about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you're rolling, turn the dough occasionally and toss a little bit of flour underneath to keep it from sticking to the surface (I always have this problem).
Once you have a 14-inch circle, gently fold it over the rolling pin and, just as gently, unroll it over the pan (try to center the dough over the pan when you do this).
Press the dough into the pan and trim away all but 3/4-inch of the overhanging edge. Fold the overhang edge into the tart pan and press the dough together, creating a thick crust around the edge of the tart shell. Save the scraps of dough in case they're needed to repair post-baking cracks.
Lightly cover and place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Line the frozen tart shell with an over-sized piece of parchment paper and fill the paper with pie weights, dried beans, or dried rice. Press the weights (or beans/rice) down to make sure there are no pockets of air between the crust and parchment paper.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. (Depending on the size of your pan, the baking time will vary.) It's okay to carefully peek under the weights to check for doneness, just be sure to recover if more time is needed.
Remove the shell from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes before removing the weights and parchment paper. If the bottom still looks wet and raw, pop it back into the oven for about 3-4 minutes. The entire tart should be a lovely shade of light golden brown. If any bubbles appear, gently press them down with the back of a spoon.

If the shell has a few cracks, don't panic. Once it has cooled, use the scraps of raw dough to patch up any mishaps. (Use just enough to fill in the gaps.)

Lemon Filling Ingredients
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons of cornmeal (I used yellow)
1 1/2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon of freshly grated *lemon* zest (I can't have enough lemon, so I never measure zest...I used the zest from 2 large lemons for this recipe) *Save the lemons for their juice*
3/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 cup of whole milk
6 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
1 pre-baked tart shell (recipe above)
Confectioners' sugar (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 325F.

In a large bowl, sift together the cornmeal and flour. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well between each addition.
One by one, add the lemon zest, juice, almond extract, milk, and melted butter. Be sure to briskly whisk each ingredient for about 30 seconds before adding the next.

Patch up any cracks in the pre-baked tart shell and place it on a rimmed baking sheet.
Give the filling one last stir and pour it into the shell, filling to just below the rim.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the center has stopped shaking and the surface is golden brown. If you notice that one side of the tart is browning faster than the other, carefully rotate the pan to even out the baking.
Allow the tart to cool for 2 hours before removing it from the pan.
Garnish with sifted confectioners' sugar and enjoy!

adapted from Leslie Mackie's Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cook Book


  1. What a great looking tart! And I know it taste super delicious! I love lemon desserts..Yum!

  2. Splendid and ever so tempting! A great Southern tart.



  3. This tart looks amazing, and by coincidence I've got the Macrina cookbook home from the library now. I've been dying to try one of the recipes. Maybe this is it!

  4. I may, or may not, be the kind of driver who is sorely tempted to slam on her breaks...thus hoping to scare the tailgater out of their skin. I don't speed. Period. I'm a changed woman, from earlier years when I did get a speeding ticket (or two). Beautiful tart. Yes, I do love to grocery shop. Always have. C'mon, we foodies are always on the lookout for inspiration!

  5. Olala quelle jolie tarte citronné bien tendre et gourmande
    Je te souhaite un bon week-end, sous la soleil et la fraicheur chez moi


  6. Absolutely sublime! I love lemon desserts!!

  7. Stunning looking tart!!
    BTW - not weird at all to love grocery-shopping. I love it too :)

  8. Oh my, I do love a good lemon tart, and this sounds perfect since it's not as sweet as so many others. :-)

  9. I've always been curious about chess pie, or tart, but never tried it as lots of recipes include vinegar, which I hate. I love lemon juice though, so this looks fantastic! I also love grocery shopping, but not driving.

  10. I really love grocery shopping too! I really enjoy lemon desserts and this one looks quite perfect

  11. I think we are food twins!!! I've "starred" almost every single one of your posts on Google Reader..and not just the lemon ones (but the mutual love of lemon definitely helps)


  12. Hi Jenn!
    Lemon worshipers have a special bond. :D

  13. that is such a decadent looking tart, yum!

  14. I dont usual comment, but that was an excellent post. cheers!


Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie


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