I’ve been so in the mood for some sunshiny warm Spring weather here in Kentucky, and when it’s almost May and it’s cold and windy outside, I must resort to creating my own Spring mood. As always…anything lemon does the trick.
There’s just something about lemons, the bright yellow color, the fresh tangy juice and the tart smell that brings your senses alive and makes you think Spring. If you’ve never used lemons in a recipe, let me explain a couple things. There are two parts of the lemon that are used in most lemon recipes, the juice and the zest. The zest is the yellow portion of the peel. The peel itself, consists of the zest and the pith. The pith is the white layer underneath the yellow zest. It’s important to not zest the white pith. It’s very bitter.
I’ve been making Lemon Meringue Pie for decades, and after years of trial and error, I’ve come up with the perfect balance of sweet and tart…at least that’s what my taste buds tell me. Now I want to share my recipe with you, so you don’t have to go through the trial and error phase. It’s really very simple to make a Lemon Meringue Pie with perfect results.
What makes the perfect Lemon Meringue Pie?
Perfect pie crust…
When making any type of pie that requires cooking the filling on the stove top versus baking in the oven, it’s important to pre-bake the pie crust prior to making the filling. Some recipes call for partially pre-baking the pie crust but in this recipe, the pie crust should be pre-baked until done.
Perfect pie filling…
The perfect lemon pie filling has to consist of 2 things, the perfect amount of tartness. I hate a sweet lemon pie filling. I want to know that the lemon is there. I want to taste the freshness and tartness of the lemon juice and zest. I add just enough sugar to take away a little bit of the pucker, if you know what I mean. The filling must be creamy yet stable. It’s important to have the important ratio of cornstarch, (for thickening), to liquid for a very creamy texture, yet thick enough to be able to slice through once it’s cooled.
- Start with a very clean and dry mixing bowl.
- Use room temperature egg whites.
- Add cream of tartar. Cream of Tartar stabilizes the egg whites, so they don’t break down.
- Make sure when you divide the egg yolks and whites, there’s absolutely no trace of egg yolk in with the whites.
- Beat the egg whites until they are foamy before adding the sugar. Add the sugar gradually while beating the whites.
- Beat egg whites until they have stiff shiny peaks, but not dry.
Here’s a couple tips for preventing your meringue from shrinking and weeping…
Spread the meringue over hot pie filling. Hot filling helps to cook the underneath of the meringue and keeps it from weeping. Spread the meringue all the way to the edges of the filling, touching the edge of the crust. This adheres the meringue to the filling and keeps it from shrinking.
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
- 1 9 inch pie shell pre-baked
- 6 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Whisk together the egg yolks in a large 2 cup measuring cup or bowl and set aside.
- Whisk together the water, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Slowly pour about half of the hot mixture into the egg yolks while whisking constantly. This is called tempering. Whisk vigorously for about 1 minute. Add the mixture back to the pan and return to medium heat. Bring back to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest and mix well. Pour filling into pre-baked pie shell and set aside. Click here to see how to pre-bake a pie crust.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Place pie with filling in the oven while preparing the egg whites. It’s important to place the meringue on hot pie filling. The hot filling helps to cook the underneath of the meringue.
- Place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or use a hand mixer. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and gradually add the sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.
- Spread the meringue over the hot pie filling. Spread meringue all the way to the edges of crust, ensuring that meringue touches the crust. This keep the meringue from shrinking. Use a spoon to make scallops or swirls in the meringue to your liking.
- Turn oven to broil. Place pie in the oven under the broiler. Watch very closely. Once the meringue starts to have patches of golden brown on top, immediately remove from oven. This only takes a minute or two so watch carefully.
- Allow pie to cool completely and refrigerate until pie is cold and firm enough to slice.
Cook time does not include pre-baking pie crust. If you want to make a homemade pie crust, see my recipe for Aunt Elsie’s Flaky Piecrust.