The BEST lemon meringue pie! Tart and creamy lemon custard filling with a mile-high billowy meringue top.
Lemon Meringue Pie: A Family Favorite
My grandmother Mae was notorious for her sweet tooth. How she lived to 97 on a diet that included daily jelly donuts I have no idea.
She loved to bake and one of her favorite things to make for us was lemon meringue pie. I still remember the magic of that whipped meringue topping that went into the oven like soft cloudy pillows and came out firm and golden brown.
Taking that first bite? Cutting into the light billowy meringue, scooping up that buttery lemon filling? Sigh.
Now as much as I loved my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie, she left no record of the recipe that I have found. But this one? It’s even better. I think it’s the best lemon meringue pie recipe around.
Three Elements for the Best Lemon Meringue Pie
There are three elements that make up a perfect lemon meringue pie—
- A lemon curd filling that is just the right balance of tart and sweet
- A tall and tender meringue topping, lightly browned.
- The crust, of course. I make an all-butter crust for lemon meringue pie this way, but you can easily use a store-bought frozen crust for this recipe.
The trick to making lemon curd for lemon meringue pie
A lemon curd filling is the base for a lemon meringue pie. You make it with egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and zest, and fortify with cornstarch so it holds its shape when you cut the pie.
What happens when the lemon curd fails to set properly? A runny filling, no fun!
According to Shirley Corriher (author of Cookwise, terrific book) the problem arises when the egg yolk meets cornstarch. Egg yolks have an enzyme in them that can thin out the starch, leaving you with a runny filling. With enough heat, the enzyme is deactivated, so the solution is to bring the filling to a boil for a long enough time to neutralize that enzyme.
You might think that boiling egg yolks would make them curdle, but after they’ve been tempered, and combined with the starch mixture, the starch prevents them from curdling.
How to make Meringue for Lemon Meringue Pie
Egg whites demand attention to whip well, and extra help to hold their shape in a meringue.
The best lemon meringue pie trick I learned (also from Shirley Corriher) is to add a gelled cornstarch and water mixture to the meringue. In addition to the acid from cream of tartar, and the use of sugar, the cornstarch helps the meringue hold its shape, and keep it from weeping or shrinking when baked in the pie.
This is how you get a “mile-high” lemon meringue pie. Plenty of egg whites, and enough support to keep the whipped meringue sturdy enough to cut, yet tender to eat.
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