Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hands on - Lemon Meringue Pie

I have three dozen eggs in my refrigerator right now and all of them were produced by personal friends.  Well, really by their chickens.  I am a lucky girl.  I am talking eggs with high, rounded bright yellow-orange yolks.  Eggs with firm whites that hold together.  No runny whites all over the frying pan for me.  These eggs give new meaning to the term "tighty whities."

One of the signs of spring is the increase in egg production of laying hens whose lives are lived in accordance with natural light cycles.  So this time of year - just in time for Easter - I have more eggs around. One thing I like to do with them is make omelets with early season spinach and green onions.  Another good use for eggs is lemon meringue pie.

Lemon meringue pie is my favorite.  I like it even more than rhubarb pie, which for the wife of a man with 148 rhubarb plants is saying something.  Making it is a project, no doubt about it.  It requires skills (e.g. making a pre- baked crust) and equipment (a rolling pin, an electric mixer or a balloon whisk and patience, a fine grater and citrus reamer, a double boiler).  It is worth it.

You might ask, Why go to all the trouble when you can buy a lemon meringue pie?  My answer:  your chances of finding a commercial pie that tastes like a lemon pie should taste are about 1 in 500.  You owe it to yourself and your family to at least experience the flavors and textures of a real homemade lemon meringue pie.  You might decide that it is so much work that you will never make it again.  But you will go to your grave knowing the  difference between good and evil - at least where lemon meringue pie is concerned.

Or you might decide to make lemon meringue pie once a year in honor of spring or Easter.  Like plum pudding at Christmas or potato salad on the Fourth of July.  That would be a nice tradition to start.  Or you might like it so much you will make it once a month or bring it to every potluck you are invited to.  Who knows how this pie might change your life?

This recipe for lemon meringue pie is my own.  I consulted six favorite cookbooks to come up with my unique proportions of sugar, lemon juice, etc.  I have to tell you I still struggle with meringue.  I haven't figured out how to keep the little beads of sugar syrup from forming on the top.  If you eat it up within a day this should not be a problem.  And even if your meringue does "weep" a bit (that is the scientific name for the little liquid drops) who cares?  The pie will still taste great.

 Peggy's Lemon Meringue Pie

The crust
You need to make a pre-baked pie crust.  I just use my favorite pie pastry recipe (I like lard).  I put it in a glass pie pan, line the crust lightly with some foil and put a few cups of dry beans on top to hold down the crust while it bakes at about 400 degrees.  After about 15 minutes I carefully remove the foil and beans and put the empty crust back in the oven.  Bake until the crust is just pale brown.  Cool.

The filling
I mix the following ingredients (I add the butter at the very end after the filling thickens) in the top of a double boiler, whisking well to remove lumps. (You could also do this in a nonreactive saucepan nested inside a large pan containing water.)  Put the filling over boiling water and cook, stirring often, until the filling thickens.  This may take awhile.  Be patient.  If you rush this you will have a curdled lumpy filling.)  After the filling thickens, I pour into another pie pan so it comes to room temperature faster.  Once the filling is lukewarm, stir in a few spoonfuls of the unbaked meringue and then pour into the prebaked pie shell.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice (3-4 lemons depending on how juicy they are)
1 T. finely grated lemon zest (add an extra teaspoon or two if you like a lot of lemon flavor)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 t. salt
2 T. butter

The meringue - make this when the filling is almost lukewarm.
Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature and there is not even a speck of fat or egg yolk in the whites or on the beater bowl.  Add 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat at high speed. When they start getting foamy, slowly add the sugar while still beating.  Add 1/2 t, vanilla at the very end - when stiff peaks have formed.
Pile the meringue on top of the lukewarm filling, being careful to spread the meringue to the edges of the filling so it bonds to the crust.
Bake at 325 degrees about 15 minutes, until meringue is lightly browned.
Cool.  Then refrigerate at least an hour to firm up the filling.  (This is where the meringue might cry on you.  I just don't know what to do about that.  Into every life some rain must fall.)

Here are step by step pictures to inspire and instruct.
Mise en place for lemon pie filling and meringue

A microplane works great if you need fine zest

A double boiler will help prevent curdling.  If it is taking forever, turn up the heat a bit.  Stir often.  You will know when it is thickened.  It is the magic of cornstarch, egg yolks and heat.

What a nice yellow spring color.  Eggs and lemon make a nice pair.

Pre baking a crust is not easy.  But it is a great skill to have.

I love my kitchen aid stand mixer.

Add a few tablespoons of meringue to the filling before pouring into the crust.

Drop the meringue in little piles so it is easier to spread.

Make sure the meringue goes all the way to the crust all the way around.

I can hardly wait until the pie is cool.  Lessons in deferred gratification.


  1. THANK YOU!!! This is my favorite pie. I can't wait to try it!

  2. It's my favorite pie, too, and I make it often. There's no reason to hate the little syrupy droplets that form on the meringue. It's not "weeping". Weeping is where water forms between the filling and the meringue. I's not very appetising. The little droplets have never been a problem for me.