Lemon Meringue Pie
Lemon meringue pie is one of those things that achieving perfection on seems to elude so many home cooks. I’m not afraid to admit that it’s something I tried once a few years ago. It was a complete disaster, with a meringue that was goopy and a filling that was so runny it looked like cream of lemon soup. I didn’t know what went wrong and it was no longer something I wanted to deal with. “Leave it to the experts,” I said. Until now, when I had the perfecting-of-lemon-meringue-pie fire reignited.
I did a lot of research before I attempted another pie. I didn’t want another failure. There’s much more to lemon meringue pie than I thought. Chemistry. Weather. Time. You need a firm, stable lemon filling. Too much lemon juice (the acid, really) and the corn starch won’t be able to hold as much moisture, resulting in a pool in the bottom of your pie pan. The corn starch is picky when it comes to heat. If cooked too long, the little starch molecules will essentially implode and release all the moisture they were holding on to.
Now let’s talk meringue. A big problem with meringue is its tendency to weep and break down, no longer holding its shape. A well made meringue will definitely make for a higher success rate. But aside from that, is there anything else that can be done? The method for applying the meringue seems a little bit controversial and probably is mostly a matter of what works for each individual.
Some swear by putting the meringue onto a piping hot filling. It makes sense. The heat from the filling will allow the bottom of the meringue to cook and firm up a little while the top browns in the oven. Others insist that the meringue should be put on a well chilled filling, then baked and served. I’m partial to the chilled filling method, but you can use whichever method works best for you.
So, here’s a real tip (or hack, if you will). Cake crumbs. A sprinkling of cake crumbs (or vanilla wafer crumbs or even graham cracker or bread crumbs if you have to) on top of the filling before you put the meringue on will help absorb some of the moisture between the filling and meringue will help to ensure a dry seal. You won’t even notice the crumbs. But it sure will help keep that meringue on top. Keep in mind that this won’t work the same if you use the hot filling method. This is just for the chilled filling method.
One more thing: Time. It doesn’t matter how perfectly your pie turn out. If you let it sit for too long, it will weep and become a puddle of lemon cream soup. Meringue pies are best eaten within a day of being made. This isn’t something you can make ahead of time. You can do the chilled filling method if you do need to make it in advance. When it’s time to serve the pie, whip up the meringue, bake it, and serve.
Okay, so now for the recipe.
- 1 (9-inch) baked pie crust
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 2/3 cup cold water
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- cake, vanilla wafer, graham cracker, or plain bread crumbs
- In a medium sized sauce pan, combine the sugar and corn starch. Whisk together to ensure the corn starch doesn't clump. Add cold water, lemon juice, and egg yolks. Whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Whisk in the boiling water. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for one minute and no longer. (Remember, too much heat will cause the starch molecules to implode.)
- Pour the filling into your prepared pie crust and place in the fridge to chill (2-3 hours).
- For the meringue: Preheat your oven to 350° F and position a rack near the bottom of the oven.
- Combine corn starch and water. Stir over medium-high heat until it thickens into a gel. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg whites and cream of tartar.
- Increase speed to medium-low and beat until frothy.
- Add sugar slowly while beating. Adding the sugar slowly allows it time to dissolve.
- Increase speed to high and beat until glossy stiff peaks form.
- Add corn starch gel and beat to combine.
- Sprinkle cake crumbs on top of the chilled filling.
- Dollop the meringue on top and push to the crust to seal the filling in. Smooth the meringue or tap it with a spoon to create those awesome little peaks.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes and no longer. Baking too long will cause the meringue to get beads of moisture on top.
- Allow to cool about 15 minutes.
- Slice and enjoy!