Lemon Meringue Pie
Perfect lemon meringue pie! A can’t miss recipe- you’ll adore the buttery, flaky crust, the tangy lemon filling, and the soft cloud of toasty meringue.
Every year, right around this time, I start to get really sick of winter.
Are you feeling it too?
It’s times like these where I just really need some sunshine. I want warmth and brightness and cheer!
Well, we’re not going to get that in terms of weather. Sadly, we’ve got several weeks of gloom and drear to go. Spring never gets here fast enough!
So lemon is the answer. Even though when I look out the window I see bare trees and gray skies, if I have a sunshine-y citrus treat in my kitchen, that makes everything else a little more bearable!
Lemon desserts are great for this time of year, not just because of how bright and cheerful they are, but also because winter produce can often be scarce. But lemons are readily available all year ’round, so they’re a perfect choice for winter or early spring baking.
And I really love them in lemon meringue pie!
Lemon meringue pie is such a classic dessert. It’s bright, citrusy, and refreshing, with a buttery crust and a cloud of sweet, fluffy meringue on top. The contrast of flavors and textures is so on point, and while it can be a bit tricky to make, I’ve got the whole process perfected.
Lots of research, testing, and re-testing has gone into this recipe, so you can rest assured that it just can’t miss.
And I’m sharing all the best tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way, so read on to find out how to make the world’s best lemon meringue pie recipe!
HOW TO MAKE LEMON MERINGUE PIE FROM SCRATCH
This recipe breaks down into 3 easy components:
- Pie Crust
- Lemon Pie Filling
- Toasted Meringue Topping
Let’s start with the crust!
THE PIE CRUST
Lemon meringue pie is traditionally baked in a buttery, flaky pastry.
If you’re rushed for time, you can use a storebought crust, but my homemade pie crust recipe is really a perfect choice. It’s easy to make with just a handful of basic ingredients, and it bakes up buttery, melt-in-your mouth tender, and SO flaky, thanks to a special folding technique.
You won’t believe all the flaky layers this technique produces! It’s almost like puff pastry.
Get all the details here (and be sure to watch the how-to video as well): Homemade Pie Crust.
Once you’ve got the dough made, rolled out, and chilled, you’re going to partially bake it so that it doesn’t become soggy once the filling goes in.
Whenever I par-bake pie crust, I like to line it with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights, so that it holds its shape as it bakes and doesn’t puff up in the middle. If you don’t have pie weights, you can order some here: pie weights, or just use dry beans instead.
THE LEMON PIE FILLING
This lemon pie filling is really easy to make, and it sets up like a dream! No more runny pie filling with this one!
I found it in Bake from Scratch magazine and it is really perfect for this pie.
Start by combining sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk them together just until they’re combined.
Then add the eggs. This recipe has a lot of eggs! They will really help the pie filling to set up nice and firm.
Add in the yolks as well. The additional egg yolks will provide a rich mouthfeel to the custard.
Whisk everything together until smooth and lump-free.
Now it’s time to juice the lemons. I like to use fresh lemons rather than bottled juice. The flavor is so much better! There’s really no comparison.
Juice the lemons into a liquid measuring cup with a fine-mesh sieve set on top. This way the strainer will catch any seeds or pulp.
If you like a really tart lemon pie filling, you can use as much as 1 1/2 cups of lemon juice. If you like a milder flavor, 1 cup is plenty.
For the lemon meringue pie you see here, I went middle of the road with 1 1/4 cups of juice.
Whisk the lemon juice into the egg mixture, and then pour the filling into the pre-baked pie shell.
It’s totally fine if your crust is still warm from the oven!
Bake the pie until it’s set around the edges but still quite wobbly in the center. You’ll notice a little bit of browning on top, but the middle of the pie should still seem very wet and liquid-y. That’s ok! It will continue to firm up as it cools.
If you overcook it, it will crack. Still tastes every bit as delicious, but it’s definitely prettier without the cracks!
Turn off the oven and open the door slightly, allowing the pie to cool down s-l-o-w-l-y. This will also help to prevent cracks.
After just a few minutes you will notice that the filling has set up completely. Leave it in the warm oven while you get going on the topping!
THE MERINGUE TOPPING
For perfect, billowy meringue, start with an immaculately clean, large mixing bowl. Glass or metal is best, as any trace of fat will prevent your whites from whipping properly, and plastic often traps microscopic molecules of fat in its surface.
Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl together.
Cream of tartar is like an insurance policy for your meringue. It helps it to whip up nice and stiff, and to STAY that way. It will also prevent shrinking or weeping.
If you don’t have cream of tartar, order some here: cream of tartar, or in a pinch, substitute a few drops of lemon juice.
Whip the egg white mixture on medium speed until it can hold soft peaks.
At this point, stir sugar and a little bit of cornstarch together and then start adding that in a very slow, steady stream, while continuing to whip. The slower you add, the better! This allows the sugar plenty of time to completely dissolve into the meringue, which will also prevent weeping.
Once all the sugar has been whipped in, add the vanilla, turn the mixer up to high speed, and continue to whip until the meringue is very stiff. When you pull the whisk out, it should hold a stiff peak and not flop to the side.
Scoop the meringue onto the pie while it’s still warm. This will help to bind the meringue to the lemon filling so they don’t slide apart.
Spread the meringue all the way to the edges of the pie crust. This ensures that the meringue won’t shrink.
Use the back of a spoon to create beautiful swirls, peaks, and valleys, then toast the meringue either under the broiler, or with my favorite kitchen tool, the brulee torch.
I like to use a torch because it’s so much fun, but also because it gives the cook so much more control. You can target exactly where you want to brown and how much.
Aim for an even balance of really brown and toasty as well as pale and marshmallow-y meringue.
Once your meringue is nice and brown, the pie is ready to serve!
Pro tip: wet your knife with cold water before slicing into the pie. Your slices will be clean and perfect!
You can serve it at room temperature, or chill it for a bit first. Just keep in mind that the longer the pie sits, the more chance of weeping. It’s really best when it’s freshly made!
Lemon meringue pie is notoriously tricky to make! There are quite a few pitfalls, and even I had to make it several times in order to figure out all the tips and tricks for a foolproof result.
I’m going to go over some of the most frequent lemon meringue pie mishaps below, so read on to learn all about how to prevent them!
FILLING WON’T SET
I’ve tried a lot of different lemon meringue pie recipes where the filling just will not set. You end up with a runny mess that does not hold its shape. Many of them require lots of time chilling, which is not optimal because the longer that meringue sits the more it will degrade.
You will not have that problem with this filling recipe. There is no stovetop cooking. It all happens in the oven, and there plenty of thickening agents plus lots of eggs, to ensure a custard that sets up so firm you can slice it with a knife, yet isn’t at all gummy or rubbery.
It’s a beautiful thing!
As simple as meringue is (egg whites whipped with sugar) it can often be frustrating to get the right result. Here are some important things to remember:
- Make sure your bowl and whisk are impeccably clean! Any trace of fat will prevent your whites from whipping properly.
- There should be absolutely zero yolk in your whites. Yolk is fat and you know what fat will do! If you accidentally pierce a yolk, you’ll have to start all over. This is why it’s a good idea to separate your eggs one by one, into a small bowl first. Accidents happen, even to the most experienced of cooks! When they do, it’s better if you’re not contaminating a whole bowl of whites.
- Whip the whites slowly at first, to create smaller, more even bubbles.
- Start adding the sugar when the whites are at soft peak stage.
- Add the sugar v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, so it has time to completely dissolve. Grainy meringue will result in small beads of moisture coming to the surface when the meringue is toasted.
- Mix a bit of cornstarch in. This will absorb any excess moisture in the meringue.
- Whip the meringue until it’s very stiff.
- Top the pie with meringue while it’s still warm, to bond the filling to the topping.
- Spread the meringue all the way to the edges of the pie crust, to avoid shrinkage.
- Serve the pie sooner rather than later. The longer it sits, the more chance the meringue will weep, shrink, or deflate.
IS LEMON MERINGUE PIE DAIRY-FREE?
This lemon meringue pie recipe is 100% dairy-free, as long as you use a vegan butter substitute for the crust.
Since there is flour in the filling and crust, it is not gluten-free.
And since it has eggs, it is not vegan.
Contrary to popular belief, eggs are not dairy, even though they are sold in the dairy section of most stores. The term “dairy” refers only to milk products.
IS IT SAFE TO EAT?
The egg whites in the topping are not fully cooked, so you’ll want to use common sense about who you serve this pie to. Anyone who is very young, very old, pregnant, or has a compromised immune system may want to be careful about eating lemon meringue pie.
One way around this is to use pasteurized egg whites. They are very safe to consume, even when completely raw.
Sometimes you can find whole pasteurized eggs, still in the shell.
But liquefied pasteurized egg whites are much more common. I have used these in the past when making meringue and they work very well. They may just need a bit more time to whip, however.
CAN THIS BE MADE AHEAD?
Lemon meringue pie is at its absolute best when freshly made.
It’s ok to chill it for a short time (maybe 2 hours?) but just keep in mind that the longer you wait to serve it, the more chance of it becoming soggy, wet, or weepy.
DOES LEMON MERINGUE PIE NEED TO BE REFRIGERATED?
Again, it is fine to chill the pie for a short time before serving, but as it sits it will definitely lose something.
If there are any leftovers, pop them into the fridge. They’ll still be safe to eat for a few days.
I would not recommend freezing lemon meringue pie. The meringue does not hold up well through the freeze/thaw process.
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Lemon Meringue Pie
For the Pie Crust:
For the Lemon Pie Filling:
To Make the Pie Crust:
- Place the flour and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
- Add the oil, whisking it in until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.
- Cut the butter into thin slices and toss them in the flour mixture to coat.
- Dribble ice water in, a tablespoon at a time, mixing just until the dough can hold its shape when squeezed (you may need slightly more or less water, depending upon the humidity of your environment).
- Gather the dough into a ball, shape it into a disc, and wrap it tighly in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour.
- Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness, and fold into thirds.
- Roll again to about 1/4-inch, then fold into thirds again.
- Repeat the rolling and folding process one more time, re-wrap, and refrigerate for another hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Unwrap the dough and on a lightly floured surface, roll to about 2 inches larger than the diameter of a standard-size 9-inch pie plate.
- Slip the dough into the ungreased pie plate, trim away any excess, and fold and crimp the edge.
- Line with a sheet of parchment, and fill with ceramic pie weights or dry beans.
- Partially bake the pie crust for 15 minutes.
To Make the Lemon Pie Filling:
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Place the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl, and whisk to combine.
- Whisk in the eggs and egg yolks until smooth.
- Whisk in the lemon juice until combined, then transfer the filling to the partially baked pie crust and bake for 38 to 42 minutes, or until set around the edges but still quite wobbly in the center (the filling will continue to set up as the pie cools).
- Leave the pie in the oven (with the oven turned off and the door slightly ajar) for about 15 minutes, or until it has cooled slightly and the filling has set up.
To Make the Meringue Topping:
- Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whip on medium speed until the meringue can hold soft peaks.
- Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl.
- With the mixer still running, add in the sugar/cornstarch mixture in a very slow, steady stream.
- When all of the sugar mixture has been added, turn the mixer up to high speed and whip until the meringue is very stiff.
- Stir in the vanilla extract, and scoop the meringue on top of the warm pie.
- Use a spatula to spread the meringue out to the edges of the crust, and to create swirls.
- Toast the meringue for a few minutes under the broiler, or use a brulee torch.
May 15, 2015
Yesterday was a wheel-spinning kind of day. Do you get those too? I just had so many ideas, things I wanted to do, and I didn’t know quite which way to direct my energy. So I ended up doing lots of different things and basically not really seeing anything fully through.
Hate when that happens. :/
Anyhow, of all the things I started working on, I decided that this would be the one I’d finally finish, and share today, because it’s light, citrus-y, and perfect for weekend entertaining.
If that’s what you’re going to be up to in the next few days. 😉 And if it’s not then you should probably reconsider your plans. It’s waaaay too gorgeous right now to be anywhere but outside, doing anything but relaxing with loved ones, and eating anything that’s not lick-your-lips delish.
Life’s just too short! And May is even shorter, so eat it all up while you still can!
We didn’t always have dessert when I was growing up, but I do remember lots of summer nights where my mom would defrost a lemon meringue pie she had picked up from the freezer section. It was always a favorite treat! And so I wanted to recreate that same dessert, only this time from scratch, and made from the freshest and best quality ingredients.
My favorite pie crust recipe forms the base, and friends, it just doesn’t get any better. Any butterier, or any flakier. The filling is from King Arthur Flour’s recipe, and it is so SPOT ON. Just sweet enough, tons of bright lemon tang, and that little bit of butter makes it linger on your tongue. The meringue is fluffy, puffy, and like a sweet vanilla cloud.
I used a pasteurized egg white product, just because my fridge is overrun with yolks from making batch after match of macarons. It worked out well- and I don’t always have luck with those liquified whites. In this case it was very good, even though it took a little longer for them to really whip up nice and stiff. You can use fresh egg whites if you’d prefer, but just know that they won’t be fully cooked.
I just love how you get that contrast within the swirls of meringue! The peaks are crunchy-tender and the valleys are soft and marshmallow-y… It’s amazing!
Just one word of advice! Don’t skip the step of chilling the pie before slicing. I foolishly made that rookie mistake and that is why you don’t see any pics of the sliced pie 😉 #shouldveknownbetter
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Lemon Meringue Pie
For the Crust
- 1/2 batch Simply Perfect Pie Dough
For the Lemon Filling
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and roll the pie dough out to a thickness of about 1/8-inch.
- Place it in an ungreased 9-inch diameter pie dish, trim away any excess, and roll the edges under. Pinch the edge between the thumb and forefinger to create a decorative edge, and prick the bottom a few times with the tines of a fork.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Place the sugar and cornstarch in a small pot, and slowly pour in the water, while whisking.
- Place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Allow the mixture to thicken over the heat, and boil for one minute.
- Place the yolks in a mixing bowl, and whisk in about a cup of the hot sugar mixture.
- Transfer back to the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about a minute.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, butter, zest, and vanilla. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.
- In a large mixing bowl, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until foamy.
- Add the sugar, very slowly.
- When soft peaks form, add the vanilla bean paste, and continue to whip on high speed until the meringue holds stiff peaks.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Top the pie with the meringue, swirling the spatula to create peaks and valleys.
- Bake the pie for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Cool completely in the refrigerator before slicing.