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Lemon Chess Tartlets

These bite-size lemon chess tartlets offer a citrus twist on a classic dessert! They’re chewy, just a little bit gooey, and full of bright lemon flavor.

Lemon Chess Tartlets on a white plate

Mini Lemon Chess Pies

In my childhood, there were usually two kinds of pie at almost any big dinner. Pecan pie and chess pie. I, of course, adore pecan pie, and so did everyone else in the family. But, I clearly remember making the conscious decision that chess pie would be my favorite.

Truth be told, I am still utterly fascinated by chess pie and all of its variations. It’s one of the best examples of how just a handful of ingredients can make something so very good. These mini lemon chess tartlets have a lemon twist that’s just perfect for lemon lovers.

You can dress up these lemon chess tartlets with some toasted coconut, toasted almonds, or just a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar. You could even add a teaspoon of almond extract or coconut extract to the filling. I opted to go all lemon on these beauties. I think they’re pretty perfect in their sweet, citrusy glory.

overhead view of Lemon Chess Tartlets on a white plate on a wooden surface

What You’ll Need

Scroll down to the recipe card to find the ingredient quantities and recipe instructions.

overhead view of ingredients for Lemon Chess Tartlets

For the crust:

  • Cream cheese – Let this soften at room temperature.
  • Unsalted butter – This also needs to soften.
  • All-purpose flour – Learn more: How to Measure Flour

For the filling:

  • Eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Buttermilk – I recommend using store-bought buttermilk here, but buttermilk powder mixed with milk or a buttermilk substitute made with vinegar or lemon juice will do in a pinch.
  • Lemon juice – If you want to make candied lemon peels or add lemon zest to the tartlets for garnish, be sure to zest the lemon before juicing.
  • Salted butter – Melt this, then let it cool slightly.

What Is the Best Cream Cheese for Baking?

For this recipe, you want to use a full-fat block of cream cheese; most professional bakers prefer Philadelphia, and I agree. What you don’t want is a tub of cream cheese—they’re whipped with air and often have added stabilizers, so they’ll change the proportions of the recipe.

How to Make Lemon Chess Tartlets

These take a bit more time than your classic chess pie recipe because you’ll need to make 48 mini crusts. That said, the recipe is still quite easy!

Make the crust dough. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the cream cheese and butter until the mixture is creamy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly beat in the flour. Mix just until combined.

Divide the crust dough. Roll the dough into 48 balls, using a scant tablespoon of dough for each. Place the dough balls on a baking sheet, cover, and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F and lightly grease 48 mini muffin cups just before the 30 minutes of chilling time is done.

Form the crusts. Place 1 dough ball into each cup. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the cups to form a pastry shell. 

Make the filling. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, lemon juice, and melted butter. Divide this mixture into the pastry shells.

Bake. Place the mini muffin pans in the oven and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until the filling is set. 

Cool. Let the tartlets cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Then, carefully remove the tarts and set them directly onto the wire racks to finish cooling. (Learn more: Why Every Baker Needs Wire Cooling Racks)

three Lemon Chess Tartlets on a small white pedestal

Tips for Success

Read over my baking tips for beginners, then follow these additional tips for perfect lemon chess tartlets.

  • Don’t skip chilling the dough. It will be easier to handle once it’s chilled. You can just use your fingers to press the chilled dough into the muffin cups, but a small tart tamper works well, too.
  • Use light-colored pans. Dark pans tend to over-bake the outside edges and the bottoms while leaving the inside under-baked.
  • Let the melted butter cool. It doesn’t need to be all the way to room temperature, but you definitely don’t want to use it while it’s too warm. If you add it while it’s still hot, it won’t mix well with the cooler ingredients and may create a mixture that’s not as smooth as you’d like.
  • Be careful removing the tarts from the pans. A thin knife or spatula should work well to help you get them out in one piece.
a stack of three Lemon Chess Tartlets on a wire rack, surrounded by more tarts

Serving Suggestions

These lemon chess tartlets are perfect on their own, but you can also dress them up a bit for a more impressive presentation. A few ideas include:

  • Top each tartlet with toasted coconut flakes.
  • Or, sprinkle toasted slivered almonds over the top at the end of baking.
  • Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar after the tarts have cooled.
  • Sprinkle white chocolate shavings over the tops of the cooled tartlets.
  • Garnish with fresh or candied lemon zest.
Lemon Chess Tartlets on a wire rack

How to Store

Lemon chess tartlets will keep for up to 4 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Can This Recipe Be Frozen?

Yes, these tartlets can be frozen for up to 3 months. Freeze them in a zip-top bag or airtight container with parchment paper between layers; let them thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

half of a Lemon Chess Tartlet stacked on top of two more tartlets on a white plate

Video Tutorial: Lemon Chess Tartlets

Lemon Chess Tartlets

Yield 48 tarts
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 22 minutes
Total Time 47 minutes

These sweet, tart mini pies are so simple to make and a pleasure to eat!

Lemon Chess Tartlets on a white plate


For the crust:

  • 8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 & 1/2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour

For the filling:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup(118ml) buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup (79ml) lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled


To make the crust:

  1. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour. Mix just until combined.
  2. Shape the dough into 48 balls, using a scant tablespoon of dough at a time. Place the dough balls on a baking sheet. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

To make the filling:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 48 mini muffin cups.
  2. Place 1 dough ball into each cup. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the cups, forming a pastry shell. If you have a tart tamper, this is a perfect use for it. Coat it lightly with a bit of flour to keep the dough from sticking to it.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, lemon juice, and melted butter. Fill each pastry shell with the mixture.
  4. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until the filling is set. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Then, carefully remove the tarts from the pans to cool completely on wire racks.


If you'd like, garnish these with with toasted coconut or toasted almonds.

Recipe slightly adapted from Southern Living.

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    31 Comments on “Lemon Chess Tartlets”

  1. I bet these are so tasty you can’t eat just one!

  2. Lemon is absolutely one of my favorite flavors, all year round, not just summertime! I could pop a easy dozen of these in my face in 5 seconds flat!

  3. Mini-sized desserts are the best! I have been hoping to see more lemon flavor on BoB. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’ve never had chess pie but it sounds like I would love it, especially with the lemon to balance out all that sweet!

  5. I’ve heard of chess pie, but vaguely remember trying it.
    These look like they just melt in your mouth.

  6. I love anything that is lemon. These sound so good! I just stopped in to say Hello from The Country Cook Brandi’s giveaway! thanks

  7. I have never heard of chess pie! I am very intrigued! I will definitely be trying this out!

  8. I could eat like 40 of these. And that’s not hyperbole.

  9. Any suggestions on how long to cook these in a regular size muffin tin?

  10. These are excellent! I made them a little bigger, in regular muffin tins, baked at 385 degrees for 25 minutes, and they were perfect! (I patted in the pastry half way up the tins and poured the filling a little below the lowest edge of the pastry. Worked great.) We tried them with some raspberry jam – yum! and they were also excellent with fresh raspberries or a simple raspberry sauce.
    This recipe is a keeper!

  11. Hi, Vicky. I’m sorry for the delay in answering your question. (I’m taking a little time off.) It looks like Nancy’s comment below yours might answer your question. Enjoy, Vicky! And thanks, Nancy!

  12. These were great. My family really enjoyed them, even the ones who don’t usually love lemon. I made a few with a single blueberry in the center. They were really nice too. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I made these for my mom who adores lemon! We have pie night every year on the night after Thanksgiving. I make everyone their own pie, (I made nine last year!) and hand them a fork. I collect pie plates all year so everyone can take home their own pie & not have to worry about returning the plate. My mom wanted to be surprised this year, so I made these to bring for Thanksgiving/pie night! They are delicious; (so tiny I got to try a few early!) I only wish I had the tart tamper so they would have looked as uniform and lovely as yours did! My mom will LOVE these! Thanks!

  14. So many think of using the end of a wooden spoon or a tart tamper, I have always saved wine corks, they are the perfect size and I seem to have one around most of the time. Hope this will help someone else!

  15. These were delicious, but really sweet. Any ideas on how to tone down the sugar without losing the custard-y texture?

  16. How would you store these and how long can they be stored before eating? I’d like to do these for a tea, but won’t have time on the day of the tea since serving 25 ladies is a lot of preparation.

  17. Jennifer,
    Hey, this is Debbie Milton in Tupelo, MS. Have been collecting vintage French patisserie pans this year and want to make these in a sweet little pan that I just received that is shaped like a gondola (barquette). I am enjoying your site so much and it is just like you–attractive, friendly, and full of classic taste (both kinds)!

  18. My friends and family enjoyed these. They said they were light and airy. I had added toasted almonds and light powdered sugar. Next time, I’m thinking of adding more lemon juice or lemon zest. Thoughts?

    • Hi, Kristina. I’m glad these were a hit! I’d definitely add the lemon zest, but I’d be hesitant to add more than just a very small amount of extra lemon juice, as it will affect the consistency of the filling.

  19. These were excellent! My family definitely calls this recipe “a keeper”. (I did make a couple of changes to the crust– I added a tablespoon of white sugar and used salted butter plus 1/4 teaspoon salt, based on a Pecan Tassie recipe my family likes.) The sprinkling of powdered sugar made them look very special. I just discovered your website and am looking forward to reading more.

  20. Can we make the dough and the filling and keep it separately till we bake for a couple of days beforehand??

    • You can definitely make the dough in advance. I’d be hesitant to let the filling sit that long before baking. These will also keep well for a few days in an airtight container after baking.

  21. Hi Jennifer,
    Could this be made in one large tray rather than mini size pies. I’d love to make it for an event I have coming up shortly, I dont think I have time to make 100 pies, making in a slice tin would be alot easier & time efficient. Would the overall outcome be be the same, I’d hate to ruin it.

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