Lemon Meringue is certainly one of the most dramatic-looking pies, featuring a neon-yellow custard topped with a sky-high cloud of lightly-crisp-on-the-edges meringue. Who could dream up such a dessert? Actually, it’s the beautiful fusion of three desserts becoming one. While meringue, lemon custard, and pie have each existed for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the 1800s when a Philadelphia cooking school instructor named Elizabeth Coane Goodfellow is credited with putting them all in the same pie plate. Not surprisingly, the concept caught on like wildfire, and today it’s considered an American classic.
While it does take a little time to assemble all of the separate components, it’s really not a difficult dessert to make. You can prepare both the pie crust and meringue topping in advance, so that when it is time to make the pie, assembly will be a snap.
Keep your filling smooth:
In the below recipe, the egg yolks are “tempered” with hot liquid. This will help in keeping the eggs from solidifying when mixed with the hot mixture (nobody likes scrambled eggs in their lemon meringue pie!). However, if you do get the odd eggy bit in your filling, simply strain it through a sieve before pouring it into the pie crust.
Make the crust in advance:
If you’d like, make the pie crust in advance. Prepare the crust, roll it out, and put it in the pie plate. Then pop the entire (unbaked) thing in a freezer bag. Thaw it for about 30 minutes before pre-baking as specified in the recipe.
Make the meringue topping in advance:
The meringue topping may also be made in advance. Prepare per the instructions listed, and then store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day in advance. Give it a careful stir before using it to top the pie though, to make sure the consistency is even.
Because this recipe uses 4 egg yolks and 4 egg whites, it’s efficient to separate 4 eggs. Keep in mind that if making the meringue topping in advance, the egg yolks separated from the same eggs will not keep for very long, so you may have to use different eggs for the filling if you prepare it too far in advance!
Lemon Meringue pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
- 4 egg yolks
- 1½ cups sugar
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 1½ cups water
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
- 2 teaspoons finely grated
- lemon zest
- ½ cup freshly squeezed
- lemon juice
- 2 to 3 drops yellow food
- coloring (optional)
- pre-baked pie crust (Recipe Follows)
- 3 cups Meringue Topping (Recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with a fork. Set aside.
Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Let it come to a boil; stir constantly for 1 minute at the boiling point. It will begin to thicken. Remove from the heat.
Immediately pour about one-quarter of the hot mixture into the egg yolks; when well combined, pour this mixture back into the saucepan. By doing this, you allow the egg mixture to acclimate to the heat, so that you won’t have scrambled eggs in your mix.
Boil and stir for 2 minutes; remove from the heat. Add the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and food coloring. Stir until the butter is melted and everything is well combined. Pour the hot filling into the pie crust.
Prepare the meringue topping, then spoon it onto the filling. Be gentle!
Spread it evenly over the filling, carefully sealing the meringue to the edges of the crust to prevent shrinking or weeping. Using a knife, form the top of the meringue into little peaks (think punk hairdo) or make swirls on the top for a pretty finish.
Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the meringue is light brown. Set the pie on a wire cooling rack and allow to cool in a draft-free place for about 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate the cooled pie until serving.
Store any leftover pie in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Makes one 9-inch crust
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon
- shortening (can use part
- butter), chilled
- 2 to 3 tablespoons ice-cold
In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening and/or butter using a pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through the ingredients in opposite directions), until the particles are the size of small peas.
Sprinkle with the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until all the flour is moistened and the pastry almost cleans the sides of the bowl (1 to 2 teaspoons more water may be added if necessary).
Gather the pastry into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, shape it into a flattened round. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for about 45 minutes, or until the dough is firm and cold, yet pliable. (Chilling the dough allows the shortening to become slightly firm, which helps make the baked pastry flakier.) If refrigerated longer, let the pastry soften slightly before rolling.
Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter, dusting the board and the top of the dough as needed to prevent sticking. Fold the pastry into fourths; center it in a 9-inch pie pan. Unfold the dough and ease it into plate, pressing firmly against the bottom and sides.
Trim any overhanging dough so that it extends about 1 inch from the rim of the pie pan. Fold the edge of the dough under, making it even with plate. Press together, then flute or crimp the edge decoratively as desired. Prick the bottom and sides of the dough thoroughly with a fork. Freeze the pastry until it is hard—about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light brown; cool on a wire rack. Let cool to room temperature before proceeding with the filling.
- 3 egg whites
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a very clean medium bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy.
Add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, followed by the vanilla, and continue beating until stiff and glossy.