Cooking clichés are cliché for a reason: they usually contain some wisdom. Take this one: “The simplest things to make are often the hardest.” I had this lesson hammered home to me in Japan, where just a tiny wedge of sweet potato was somehow the most incredible sweet potato of my life. Or in Kyoto where we ate a whole carrot that was battered and fried-tempura style, arriving at the table like a work of art. The American version of that, I believe, is pie. Simple to behold, challenging to make. And perhaps the most simple and challenging of all is the lemon meringue pie.
Weigh Your Pie Down
Over the years, I’ve gotten more confident at making pie crust. My technique is to do everything in the food processor and to work quickly. I add more water than the experts tell you to, to make it easier to roll out. And then I knead it a little on the counter to make the dough come together without overworking it.
This time around, though, there was an extra challenge: blind-baking. Thankfully, I had two pie crusts in the fridge and after the first one folded in on itself, my pie pal Nicole Rucker advised me to put more weights into the second attempt, filling it all the way to the brim. As you can see, I didn’t have enough weights to pull that off (I used chickpeas and dried lentils), so the results were a little sketchy.
We interrupt this post to bring you an Instagram Reel I made of the process:
Nobody Sees the Crust in a Lemon Meringue Pie
The nice thing here is that, after you blind-bake the crust, you’re just making your filling and then your meringue… all of which will cover a multitude of sins.
This particular filling, which comes from Cheryl Day’s wonderful cookbook, Treasury of Southern Baking, has a good amount of corn starch to help it set up. I went a little extra on the zest to make it super puckery.
You may be thinking: “Adam, I can see the crust there… you lied to us!” Have no fear. Meringue is here.
Meringue it on Home
What a miracle meringue is. Not only does it add height to your pie, you can spread it around as much as you need to in order to hide the cracks.
Some people use a blowtorch to give your meringue color, but Cheryl Day has you pop it into the oven for ten minutes and that does the job.
See what I mean? When David Lebovitz posted about it on Instagram he called it: “a picture-perfect lemon meringue tart.”
I think it’s time to update the cliché. “The simplest things to make are often the hardest… unless you can pile a ton of meringue on top. Then they’re pretty easy.”
Lemon Meringue Pie
For the pie crust (makes two)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup ice water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes (1/2 pound)
For the lemon filling:
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest I used more to make it punchy
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
For the billowy meringue:
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
For the pie crust:
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large measuring cup, combine the water and the vinegar. Set aside.
- Toss the pieces of very cold butter into the flour mixture, then pulse a few times to get a rough texture, with some pea-sized pieces in there. Drizzle in half of the ice water mixture, pulse again, and test the dough. If you can pinch it, and it comes together, it's ready. If not, repeat again with the rest of the ice water mixture.
- Dump the dough out onto a floured counter and use a bench scraper to bring it together. With the heel of your hand, smear the dough a little at a time, pushing it away from you and working your way down the mass of dough to create flat layers of flour and butter. Gather up the dough with a bench scraper and repeat the process once or twice more.
- Cut the dough in half. Shape each piece into a disk and flatten it. Wrap in plastic and chill for one hour. NOTE: You'll only need one disc for this recipe, but it's good to have backup in case things go awry! And if you don't end up using it, you can freeze it for another time.
- Preheat the oven to 375. Dust a surface with flour and unwrap one of your pie discs. Dust with flour, flour your rolling pin, whack it a few times, and then roll it out into a 12-inch round. Carefully drape the dough into 9-inch pie plate, guiding it into the edges without forcing them in. Trim the dough overhang to about 1 1/2 inches. Fold the overhang on to the edge of the pie plate and use a fork to crimp it together. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- To blind-bake, dock the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork, line the shell with parchment or foil, and fill with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the crust are lightly golden brown. Carefully remove the parchment and weights (you can use them again!) and continue baking for another 5 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely before filling.
For the lemon filling:
- In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks. Set aside.
- In a medium heavy nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Set the pan over medium heat and gradually add the water and the milk, whisking until smooth. Continue to whisk until the mixture comes to a boil, 4 to 5 minutes, then whisk constantly until the mixture begins to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.
- To temper the egg yolks, add about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture to them, whisking vigorously so the yolks don't curdle. Pour the warmed egg yolk mixture into the rest of the milk mixture and set over low heat. Whisk in the lemon zest and juice, bring to a simmer, whisking, and simmer until the custard is thick and glossy, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted and fully incorporated.
- Place the pre-baked pie crust on a parchment or foil-lined cookie sheet. Pour the custard into the crust and set aside while you make the meringue.
For the billowy meringue and to finish the pie:
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- In the impeccably clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on low speed for 1 minute, or until the egg whites begin to thicken and look frothy. Slowly add the granulated sugar, then continue beating until soft peaks form.
- Add the confectioners' sugar and whip on medium speed until the meringue is stiff and glossy; it should form stiff peaks that hold their shape when you lift the whisk out of the bowl.
- Immediately pile the meringue all over the surface of the pie, making sure it touches the crust all around. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to make big, luscious swirls.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the meringue is lightly golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack at least 1 hour before serving.
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