Lemon Chess Pie

Pie is not my forte. More specifically, flaky, golden crust eludes me. You might have noticed the abundances of cakes on my blog which is in stark contrast to the amount of pie recipes offered. My recent purchase of the Elsen sisters’ The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book will bring about some change. Despite my less than satisfactory crust result, I refuse to give up and will bake my way through their cookbook.

The Elsen sisters have a rustic approach to baking pies. There’s no need for a stand mixer or food processor. You can work the dough with your hands. Their basic all-butter crust has cider vinegar on its ingredients list, which adds tang and tenderness to the crust. This bright lemon filling is a tangy, rich custard that is oh so delicious. I had extra filling, enough to fill one soufflé ramekin. Instead of crimping the edges of the dough, I braided it… only to have the filling submerge the design. I left my pie in the oven much longer than the required baking time. My oven thermometer read the right temperature, so I’m wondering if it’s the recipe that is being finicky.


Bon appétit!

Recipe Source: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Yields 8 to 10 slices

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
zest of 1 lemon
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 eggs
2/3 cup heavy cream
7 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1) Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl.
2) Add the butter pieces, coating them with flour.
3) Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour mixture, until pea-sized butter pieces remain.
4) Pour the water and cider vinegar in a measuring cup.
5) Pour 2 tablespoons of the water mixture at a time in the large bowl, using your hands to fully incorporate the water mixture into the dough after each addition. You won’t need to use all of the water.
6) Shape the dough into a ball.
7) Flatten it into a disc.
8) Wrap the disc of dough in plastic wrap.
9) Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
10) Dust your work surface with flour.
11) Roll out the dough and place it in a 9-inch pie shell.
12) Chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes.
13) Use a fork to prick the bottom and sides of the dough. This step is called docking, and it helps eliminate the air bubbles.
14) Place the pie shell in the freezer for 10 minutes.
15) Position two oven racks: one on the middle rack, the other on the lowest rack. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack.
16) Preheat the oven to 425F.
17) Cover the pie dough with aluminum foil, making sure the crimped edges are covered and that there are no gaps between the dough and the foil.
18) Pour pie weights onto the foil, concentrating them more along the edges than in the centre.
19) Place the pie shell on the baking sheet on the lowest oven rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Crimped edges will be set but not browned.
20) Transfer the pie shell and baking sheet to a wire rack.
21) Remove the foil and the pie weights.
22) Brush the bottom and sides of the pie shell with a thin layer of egg white glaze (1 egg white + 1 teaspoon water). This will moistureproof the crust.
23) Transfer the baking sheet and pie shell to the oven’s middle rack and bake for 3 minutes.
24) Transfer the partially prebaked pie shell and baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool completely before filling.
1) Place the oven rack in the centre position. Preheat the oven to 325F.
2) Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
3) Stir the lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, flour and salt together in a large bowl.
4) Stir in the melted butter.
5) Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. The mixture should be thick and light in colour.
6) Pour in the heavy cream.
7) Add the lemon juice, orange juice and vanilla.
8) Pour the filling over a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the lemon zest, directly into the prebaked pie shell.
9) Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. The pie is ready when the edges are set and the filling puffed up, the centre still a bit wobbly. I left my pie in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.
10) Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving. The filling will continue to cook and set as it cools.

Store the pie in the fridge for 2 days, or at room temperature for 1 day.

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