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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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.
The crust is super easy to put together (in a food processor) and is a perfect complement 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!
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ sticks cold butter 6 ounces, cut in small pieces
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.
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.
Using your fingertips, press dough evenly up sides of pan and onto the bottom.
Prick the dough lightly with a fork.
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.
Preheat oven to 425˚F.
Remove from the refrigerator and remove plastic wrap or foil. Place tart on the prepared sheet pan and bake for 8-12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely before adding the filling and proceeding with directions.
- 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
Preheat oven to 350˚F
Combine eggs and sugar in a medium size bowl. Stir with a whisk until completely combined.
Add lemon juice, butter, cornstarch/flour and salt. Whisk until well combined.
Pour into the prepared shortbread crust (or a purchased pie shell).
Bake 30-40 minutes or until firm in the middle and golden brown on top