Cook the Book: Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Pie

Cook the Book: Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Pie

[Photographs: Caroline Russock]

When thinking of Southern desserts, towering coconut cakes and red velvets with clouds of billowy icing come to mind—big, showy desserts with a very high sugar quotient. Then there's the chess pie, a simple, borderline plain pastry shell filled with a custard of eggs, sugar, and vanilla. It's still plenty sweet but in a more subtle, understated sort of way, and one of my personal Southern dessert favorites.

Updating this classic in a uniquely Southern way is this Sweet Tea Lemon Chess Pie from Mississippi chef and author Martha Foose. For The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook she's spun the classic chess pie filling with an ingenious combination of lemon and sweet tea. Adding these two simple components give the plain pie a refreshingly sweet quality, reminiscent of a cool glass of sweet tea on a humid afternoon.

Served chilled in thin slices, this cream cheese crusted pie filled with a lemon-tea spiked custard filling is made for summer—refreshingly sweet and very Southern.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook to give away this week.

Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook by John T. Edge and Sara Roahen. Copyright © 2010. Published by University of Georgia Press. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

  • Yield:makes one 9-inch pie, 8 to 10 servings
  • Active time: 20 minutes
  • Total time:1 hour 10 minutes


  • For the crust:
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • For the filling:
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup warm, freshly brewed strong orange pekoe tea
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornmeal


  1. 1.

    For the crust: Beat the cream cheese and butter in a bowl with an electric mixer until well-combined. Add the flour and mix at low speed until the dough comes together into a ball. Pat the dough evenly and thinly into a 9-inch pie pan, building up a thicker top edge. Place the pie shell in the freezer while preparing the filling.

  2. 2.

    For the filling: Beat the butter in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in the zest. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping the bowl often. Slowly add the tea, vanilla, vinegar, and lemon juice. Add the flour and cornmeal. Scrape the bowl and mix well. Don’t be alarmed if the mixture looks slightly curdled.

  3. 3.

    To assemble: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the pie shell from the freezer and pour in the filling. Bake until only a quarter-sized area in the center jiggles slightly when the pie is shaken gently, about 50 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack and then chill at least 2 hours before serving.