Lemon Chess Tart with Shortbread Crust

Lemon Chess Tart - Amazing "Old-Fashioned" flavor. This updated version of a wonderful "generational" family recipe is simply delicious.

It’s not that this Lemon Chess Tart with Shortbread Crust doesn’t look good. No, it looks just fine ……….. just rather plain. But you know what? It’s a major con artist! Yup, you’ll see ………… take the first bite and your eyes are sure to as get wide as your taste buds are delighted with the velvety smooth, not too tart, delicious lemon filling.

And then there’s the crust ………….  oh my!  The crust. Wow, golden-crisp, buttery and sweet; a perfect partner to the bright, fresh lemony interior. I’ve decided this is one of my favorite desserts ……….. ever!  So just go ahead and pass it by for one of the more glamorous, fancy-looking, multi-named desserts. That will suit me just fine.

Lemon Chess Tart with Shortbread Crust - a classic Southern recipe with a little twist. This is one crazy-good take on Lemon Chess Pie.

I knew the minute I tasted this amazing dessert at a classic, fun little restaurant in southern Virginia, that I’d HAVE to have the recipe. It turns out that all the desserts at The Horseshoe Restaurant in South Hill, Va. are homemade daily, from scratch. And even better than that, they’re all made from recipes handed down from generation to generation.


Lemon Chess Tart with Shortbread Crust - a classic Southern recipe with a little twist. This is one crazy-good take on Lemon Chess Pie.

Scott Rogers, the owner of The Horseshoe, uses old family recipes for every dessert he serves in his charming little diner whose history dates back to the early 1900’s. It was originally a blacksmith shop (how cool is that!) and now includes a lunch counter in the shape of a horseshoe.

Horseshoe Restaurant, South Hill, Virginia

It’s the actual area where the horses were tethered as they were receiving their new shoes. This particular recipe came from his great Aunt. Who knows, maybe it originated from her great Aunt? I love it!

Lemon Chess Tart - Amazing "Old-Fashioned" flavor. This updated version of a wonderful "generational" family recipe is simply delicious.

We discovered the Horseshoe Restaurant several weeks ago while exploring the South Hill area. We’d taken a long bike ride on a section of the newly completed Virginia Heritage (Rails-to-Trails) bike trail, and were quite famished. We checked with YELP* on our phones, and noticed The Horseshoe was rated quite high (four and a half stars) …………  so we set out to find it.

Lemon Chess Tart - Amazing "Old-Fashioned" flavor. This updated version of a wonderful "generational" family recipe is simply delicious.

We weren’t  disappointed, and were thrilled to find this casual diner offered gourmet burgers, sandwiches, salads and other entrees with an emphasis on local and “farm to table”. It was so good we returned a couple days later and had the pleasure of meeting Scott. He pulled up a chair and, as we chatted, Scott explained how he’d been in the corporate restaurant business for years before making the decision to return to his roots (the area where he’d grown up) and open up a diner in South Hill.

Everything we sampled at Scott’s nostalgic, historic little restaurant was wonderful; from a fabulous Gyro Burger made with ground lamb from a local farm, to his renowned Fried Green Tomato appetizer – served with a dollop of homemade pimento cheese and a spicy dipping sauce. Oh, and the desserts! Between the two visits we tried three amazing pies, each one delicious, presented beautifully on rectangular plates with dollops of fresh, sweet whipped cream.

Lemon Chess Tart - Amazing "Old-Fashioned" flavor. This updated version of a wonderful "generational" family recipe is simply delicious.

I’d order all of the desserts again, but the lemon chess pie had me totally smitten. Scott promised to send me the recipe and I was delighted when I received his email. The recipe looked exactly like many of the recipe cards and scraps of paper I have from my mom; they just knew how to put food together back then and didn’t need a lot of details. This is how Scott’s Lemon Chess Pie recipe read:

The Horseshoe Lemon Chess Pie

2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Stick Butter (Melted)
1/4 tsp. Cornstarch or Flour (yes, that’s right – a 1/4 TSP)
Dash Salt

Preheat Oven to 350
I would give you some sorta scientific order to mix it all up, but we just throw it all in the bowl and mix ‘er up and pour it in a deep dish pie shell and bake 30-45 (Depending on what mood the oven is in for the day) minutes until firm in the middle and golden brown on top!!

So typical of how great cooks prepared delicious food back then! I have arranged it in a more detailed recipe format, (see below) but the bones for my Lemon Chess Tart with Shortbread Crust are exactly the same as Scott’s great Aunt’s recipe. I used a favorite shortbread-crust recipe of my own for the crust and baked it in a tart pan.

Lemon Chess Tart - Amazing "Old-Fashioned" flavor. This updated version of a wonderful "generational" family recipe is simply delicious.

The crust is super easy to put together (in a food processor) and is a perfect compliment to the lemon chess filling. If you’re in a hurry, you could definitely use a purchased pie shell. It will still be incredible. Either way, I think you’ll love it, and it very well may become a favorite at your house too!

P.S. If you’re in the vicinity of South Hill, VA, be sure to visit at The Horseshoe. If you’re coming down I-85, it’s only about 10 minutes off the Interstate! It will be so worth it! Have a slice of lemon chess pie; but be sure to leave some for me!

See the beautiful eggs in the photos? Well, that’s a whole other adventure we had in the South Hill area. We’ll be sharing that one soon, along with a really fun egg recipe!


Shortbread Crust

4.8 from 13 reviews

A fabulous buttery shortbread crust, perfect for any pie filling or sweet tart recipe.

  • Author:
  • Category: Dessert


  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ sticks cold butter, 6 ounces, cut in small pieces


  1. Lightly spray an 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom with cooking spray. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper for easy clean up (just in case any of the filling bubbles up over the top) if desired.
  2. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, with 10 second pulses, until dough starts to form clumps. This will take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. Stop as soon as the mixture clumps and turn out into a tart shell. Don’t worry if it seems quite powdery at first. It will take longer than a regular pie crust dough. Just keep pulsing until it begins to clump.
  3. Using your fingertips, press dough evenly up sides of pan and onto the bottom.
  4. Prick the dough lightly with a fork.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and place in refrigerator for 1 hour. This will help keep the crust from shrinking when it hits a hot oven.
  6. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
  7. Place tart on prepared sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely.

Lemon Chess Tart w/ Shortbread Crust

4.8 from 13 reviews

  • Author:


  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 2 ounces melted butter, ½ stick
  • ¼ teaspoon cornstarch or flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Shortbread Crust (recipe above) or purchased deep dish pie shell


  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F
  2. Combine eggs and sugar in a medium size bowl. Stir with a whisk until completely combined.
  3. Add lemon juice, butter, cornstarch/flour and salt. Whisk until well combined.
  4. Pour into prepared shortbread crust or purchased pie shell.
  5. Bake 30-40 minutes or until firm in the middle and golden brown on top


71 thoughts on “Lemon Chess Tart with Shortbread Crust”

  • Hi Chris. Thanks for this recipe. I made it this morning for Easter brunch and it was a hit. I used Meyers Lemons, so yummy. I did add about a table spoon of water to the crust. It came out fine. I will make this again.

  • This pie is amazing!!!! I love the crust, it is perfect and the lemon filling is not too tart.. I guess I can make use this recipe as a lemon bar. Unlike other lemon desserts, I made, I can taste the bitterness. Thanks for the recipe, This will be my go to recipe and will surely be a keeper! Please share more recipes, please..

    This is a five star but somehow it does not allow me to put the fill the fifth star.

  • Made your Lemon Chess Tart for our New Year’s Eve celebration and it was a big hit. Thanks for sharing.

  • okay..I did something wrong. Never cooked on the inside..beautiful crust and golden brown on top..complete liquid in the middle even after an hour

  • This is amazing!! I have made this recipe as the pie and also as bars numerous times. Amazingly simple to make and tastes heavenly. I’ve been told I’m not invited if I don’t bring these with me. Thank you for sharing.

    • I just made this tart and it was delicious! The only problem that I had was that the tart was so full with the liquid ingredients, that some of it spilled over the sides when I was putting it into the oven (my racks slant slightly when pulled out). So next time I will reserve some of the filling and then pour it into the crust once its in the oven. Its possible my crust puffed up too much and took up some of the space that the filling required.

      I didn’t see anywhere in your instructions if this was supposed to be served warm or cold. My guests were impatient and wanted to eat it warm. We had some chilled leftovers the next day also. It was delicious both ways! I will definitely make this again soon. Thank you!

  • This is a lovely twist! I cant wait to try it out for thanksgiving. I have a logistical hiccup however. I feel silly asking…but this is my first rodeo with a tart pan. By sheet pan, do you mean a baking sheet for like, cookies? Or a cake, with sides? Where am I putting this parchment paper? :/

    • Hi Shelby, yes a sheet pan would be also called a cookie pan. Good question. The parchment paper or foil is place on the sheet pan just for easy clean up in case any of the lemon filling bubbles up over the top. It’s not absolutely necessary. Hope you enjoy this tart. It’s one of our favorite desserts ever!

  • Hello. Greetings from New Zealand. I just came across your page and I’m drooling at your lemon tart…. I’m going to head to the supermarket shortly to buy the ingredients, can’t wait. Thanks, Helen

  • This looks amazing! I’m making it right now, actually. The only thing I noticed is that the lemon curd filling made much more than was necessary to fill the pie crust. Has anyone else encountered this? I followed the recipe exactly as-is, so I’m not quite sure why there’s so much leftover (I’d say at least 1/4 cup – 1/3 cup remaining). I didn’t want to flood the tart, so I left it out.

    • Hi Kevin, tart pans vary a bit in depth so that might be the issue. You did the right thing. Perhaps next time you could make a little crustless tart in a small ramekin with the leftovers 🙂

  • I made this dessert last night when my husband sprung a guest on me for dinner. It was delicious and simple! I used my own tried and tested shortcrust pastry recipe and halved the sugar and found that it was plenty sweet enough. Such a lovely dessert with staples from the fridge and pantry, thanks!

  • Thank you so much for sharing! I made this and it was amazing! The crust worked out great but I should have used a stronger spray for it not to stick 🙂 fortunately only the edges were lost. If you feel intimidated or fearful it’s not anything to be afraid of 🙂 (I know I was) have fun baking 🙂

  • Can the shortbread crust be made without a food processor? I gave mine to my daughter, as I hardly ever used it.

  • Can hardly wait to make the Lemon Chess Tart w/ Shortbread Crust. I have made shortbread and it is so luscious (and I hate to say Not low fat…..but I love it)
    loved the story about The Horseshoe Restaurant and the Trail. that would be a fun trip some day. i am in California so it may be a while. thanks so much for all the recipes.

  • Well I know Southerners love Chess Pie. I have to agree, the lemon chess is beyond delicious! I love that you added a shortbread crust, the combination of flavors must be amazing! Hugs, Terra

  • I’m a south Virginia resident and love the Horseshoe, but I’ve never tried their lemon pie. I feel I must now that I’ve seen this blog. Thanks for visiting our area and trying the Horseshoe and the Tobacco Heritage Trail. We’re very proud of our trail. It will eventually be 150 miles long. Then you can go for a really looooong bike ride and eat as much pie as your heart desires! Check out the trail on facebook “Tobacco Heritage Trail” or on the website http://www.tobaccoheritagetrail.org.

  • Chris, I might have mentioned before that I love , love everything lemon., everything form lemony desserts to lemon dressing…so this lovely Lemon Chess Tart look s exactly like the kind of dessert tart that I would make – so, I will definitely give this recipe a try – as it looks fabulous. I do have one question, do you usually pre-bake your pie crusts?
    The post is wonderful too, I. really enjoyed reading about the “Horseshoe Restauarnt.
    Have a nice Sunday!

    • Hi Andrea! Thanks for your kind comment! I don’t always pre-bake my pie crusts. It just depends on the type of pie. I wanted the crust to be nice and crisp with this one so I did pre-bake it. I love that you don’t have to mess with the blind-baking though and the pie weights,etc – just a quick stint in the oven!

  • The photos with the crust front and center makes me shiver a little. I so need it in my life!! I’ve never ever made a tart. This may be the first one I make!

  • This looks so delicious!! YUM! and your photography is so beautiful! I just found your blog! So nice 🙂 I hope that you have a great rest of your weekend!!

  • Chris, Really enjoyed this post! The Horseshoe Restaurant sounds like a perfect place to enjoy a good meal! And the pie is just beautiful…I have so many recipes from my mom or my aunts that read the exact same way! I am bookmarking this pie…give me anything lemon! Have a great weekend!

  • I love little gems like this diner. We use Yelp a lot too to get off the interstates and find the local cafés and eateries like this. So great he shared the recipe with you.

  • My mom has a large lemon tree in her backyard and right now I am looking for great ways to use them up, this looks fabulous, the crust looks amazing.

  • This could easily become one of my favorite desserts too. Your crust looks divine and we love all things lemon. Your new look is wonderful, Chris. Your designer did a wonderful job that really shows off your stunning photos and your lovely recipes.

  • I have an 11″ tart pan but it doesn’t have a removable bottom — if I spray it well enough with cooking spray do you think it’ll be okay? Thanks!

  • A dear sweet soul that used to babysit for us when the kids were little made Chess Pie quite often. At that time baking wasn’t on my radar as often as it is now. I’ve often wondered about the recipe but never searched for it. Thank you so much Chris. Saying that it looks delicious doesn’t seem to be enough.

  • My pastry skills leave a little to be desired, so when I see a crust that can be pushed and spread into a tart pan I swoon. I swoon for lemon too.

  • Love lemon tarts and shortbread crusts..look at the texture on your crust….splendido!
    How nice of Scott to send you teh recipe..Now that’s a class act:)
    I want a male muffin recipe I just had at a locel patisserie..well not local but 20 minutes away..i tried recreating..they are good..but not teh oens we sampled..:)
    Lucky you..:)

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