lemon basil chess pie.

it’s no secret i am head over heels for brooklyn-based pie purveyors four & twenty blackbirds, so when i stumbled across their recipe for a lemon chess pie — my favorite kind of pie! — i had to give it a try. (with my own twist, of course.)

recipe #15: lemon basil chess pie

photo-3time: around 2 + 1/2 hours

soundtrack: arthur russell’s “first thought, best thought”

a) crust: 
(makes enough for one 9-inch pie; double this if you want to have a ball of dough to keep handy in the freezer)
  • 1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup ice cold water
b) pie: 
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 + ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 7 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice (from about 3 Meyer lemons)
  • Zest from 1 Meyer Lemon
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (dried basil will not give you a fresh taste here – better to go without) + 1/4 cup fresh basil cut up into “confetti” for garnish
  • 1 + ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pink peppercorns
the plan:
a) for the crust:

1) in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together.

2) cut the cold butter into cubes. add the cubes to the bowl and toss until they are coated. put the mixture in the bowl of a food processor and pulse in 1-second bursts, until the mixture becomes course meal-like and the pieces of butter large pea-sized.

3) increase pulse time to 2 seconds and continue to pulse in bursts, while drizzling the ice water into the food processor through the feed tube (make sure it’s ice cold!) until it *just* starts to form a ball. then stop!

4) remove it from the food processor and flatten it into a disk.  wrap in parchment paper then in plastic wrap, then refrigerate about 1 hour.

5) after the dough has chilled, roll it out into a pie-shaped circle. fit it into the pie pan or plate, crinkling the edges however your sweet little heart guides you. then put it back in the fridge for 30 minutes.

6) after it’s done chilling, again, preheat oven to 375 degrees. prick the bottom of the crust with a fork, then line with foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. bake for 15 minutes, then remove weights and bake for about 5-10 more minutes.  be careful not to overbake because you will be adding the custard and baking for 30-40 more minutes!

7) remove let cool on a wire rack. turn the heat down to 325 degrees (more on that in the next section…)

b) for the pie:

1) position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.

2) heat the heavy cream in a saucepan on very low with the fresh basil for about 10-15 minutes, until it is infused with the basil flavor.  let cool.

3) melt the butter. in large bowl, stir together the lemon zest, sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt. use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir in the melted butter, then the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. mix briskly until the filling is thick and light colored (like an Easter pastel yellow).

4) stir in the heavy cream, followed by the lemon juice,  and vanilla extract.

4) strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pre-baked pie shell.

5) bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking. the pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still wobbles slightly; it should be lightly golden on top. the filling will continue to cook and set as it cools so be more considered about overbaking than underbaking.

6) allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 3 to 4 hours. garnish with strips of fresh basil and ground pink peppercorns. then, as always, give yourself a high five!

xo, jill

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