Saturday, April 22, 2017

Lemon Meringue Pie - Meringue Topping Tips

A bright, slightly tart lemon meringue pie is as refreshing as can be after dinner. They never feel heavy or too rich, and are not overly sweet. The combination of sweet and tart simply makes this a perfect pie choice all year long.

Julian's Lemon Meringue Pie
Lemon meringue was my mother's favorite pie and she made them regularly. This however, is not her recipe as I don't think she actually had one written down. She used a cast iron skillet and said it was essential for her recipe. I however just use a standard pot and it comes out great. My recipe is based on that of Cooks Illustrated, but I have made several small changes over time.

Here are my key meringue tips:

  • Make meringue toppings on dry, low-humidity days, or in the house when the air-conditioning is removing humidity. Humidity causes the meringue to weep (small droplets of moisture form on the top and under the meringue), as does refrigeration. 
  • Undissolved sugar in the egg whites can also cause weeping. Don't add the sugar before a coarse foam appears, and then add it very slowly to insure it dissolves. To make sure the sugar gets dissolved, mix the egg whites and sugar at a low speed until the mixture feels perfectly smooth with no graininess when you rub a little between your thumb and finger. Using superfine sugar is preferable to regular table sugar, as it dissolves more quickly.  
  • Use the corn-starch mixture in the recipe below in your meringue, as it also traps moisture and reduces weeping. The cream of tartar reduces shrinkage.
  • Don't over bake your meringue. Finish browning with a blow torch or under the broiler if needed for extra browning. Over baking causes the egg whites to shrink and squeeze out small droplets of moisture called weeping. Always make sure to check on your pie at the minimum baking time. 
  • Keep the pie filling warm and covered with plastic on the surface as you prepare the meringue. When meringue is ready, pour the still hot filling into the pre-baked crust and spread. The heat from the filling will help set the meringue and the steam will pass up through the meringue, rather than being trapped underneath, making it less likely to weep.
  • Make sure to seal the meringue completely to the edge of the pie first, before filling the center of the pie. It must be sealed to the crust edge to prevent shrinking.  
  • Allow to cool on a rack or trivet for 3-4 hours before serving. Do not refrigerate before serving. Pie should be served the same day as baked.

Julian's Meringue Topped Lemon Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie


 Lemon Custard:

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into 2 pieces


1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup (3½ oz) granulated (superfine) sugar

Pie crust:

1 recipe single-crust pie dough, fully baked and cooled


Pre-bake the pie crust per the instructions on that recipe.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Zest the lemons and then finely chop the zest. Cover and set aside.

Divide eggs, noting that you will need six yolks and four whites. Use another small bowl for the extra two whites.

For the Lemon Custard:

In a heavy medium-sized pan, mix together the sugar and cornstarch and salt. Whisk in water and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When mixture starts to turn translucent, whisk vigorously while adding in two egg yolks at a time. Whisk in lemon zest, juice and butter. Return mixture to simmer, whisking constantly, then remove from heat. Lay sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface of filling to keep warm and prevent skin from forming.

For the Meringue:

In a small pan, add the tablespoon of cornstarch, then whisk in 1/3 cup water. Bring to a bare simmer in small saucepan and cook, whisking until it just becomes thickened and translucent looking, 1 to 2 minutes at most. Remove from heat and let cool slightly while you prepare the egg whites or trasnfer to a small bowl to stop the cooking process. The mixture should remain of a glue-like consistently that you can easy spoon into the egg whites.

Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites and vanilla at medium low-speed until foamy and very frothy. Mix together the cream of tarter and sugar, turn the speed up to medium high and add very slowly pouring about a tablespoon at a time until all incorporated. Test between your fingers to ensure it is not grainy. The mixture should now form soft peaks. Continue to whip and add the cornstarch mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. Continue to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 2-4 minutes longer on high speed.


If filling is no longer hot, during the last minutes of beating the egg whites, remove plastic and return to very low heat for just a moment or two to warm. I rarely find this necessary.

Pour warm filling into cooled pre-baked pie crust. Working quickly, use a large spatula to place the meringue around the edge of the pie crust, while slowly turning the pie. Seal the meringue to the edge all around before filling the center. Fill the center and spread the meringue to cover the top. Using the back of spoon, create attractive swirls and peaks in meringue. Bake until meringue is light golden brown, about 15 minutes and finish with a blow torch or quickly under a pre-heated broiler if necessary for extra browning.

Cool to room temperature on a rack for 3 hours before serving. Do not refrigerate.

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