My dad’s favorite pie is lemon meringue, hands down. When he was a strapping teenager, he’d mow neighborhood lawns all morning until he earned enough to buy a whole pie, which he would sometimes polish off the same day.
Thankfully his days of beast mode pie-eating are over, because I got to have a slice of the lemon meringue I helped my mom bake last night.
Meringues are essentially egg whites and sugar, whipped until light and airy. I added vanilla extract to mine for flavor; my mom is far more pro than I and uses thin shreds from whole vanilla beans. They can be used as a pie topping, made into cookies, or folded into other desserts for added lightness. For example, THE MACARONS I WILL BE ATTEMPTING TO MAKE THIS BREAK NOM NOM:
Many meringue recipes call for cream of tartar; it’s not strictly necessary, though it does help to stabilize the meringue, and according to Martha Stewart “mimics the chemical reaction that occurs when egg whites are whisked in a copper bowl” by the really hardcore meringue chefs out there.
Though they have a reputation for being finicky, a few tricks will ensure a successful meringue. Martha has a plethora of tips for guaranteeing a successful meringue, including preventing beading and weeping of moisture, shrinking, and overbaking. I’d like to add that to prevent your meringue from shrinking to the center of the pie as it cools, you should:
(a) apply the meringue while the lemon filling is still hot;
(b) seal it all the way to the edge of the crust around the circumference of the pie;
(c) do this sealing in several layers so that if one fails, the others back it up; and
(d) cool your pie as slowly as possible in multiple steps by first turning off the oven, then opening the door to let heat escape, then letting it cool on the counter, then putting it in the refrigerator covered by a protective bubble of foil.
Next time, I think I’ll try taking the pie out of the oven earlier and completing the browning of the meringue with a creme brulee torch.
My mom baked the crust for our pie because, again, she’s pro. The recipes for the filling and meringue are from our well-loved 1981 copy of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, an essential part of any kitchen.
Lemon Meringue Pie
1 1/2 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
3 T all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c water
2 T butter
1/3 c lemon juice
1 baked pastry crust
Meringue for pie* [which you should make after you add the hot filling to the pastry crust]
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch flour, and a dash of salt. Gradually stir in water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Separate egg yolks from whites; set whites aside for meringue. Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into the beaten yolks. Return mixture to saucepan; bring to a gentle boil. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in butter or margarine. Gradually stir in lemon juice, mixing well. Pour hot filling into pastry shell. Spread meringue over hot filling; seal to edge. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue is golden. Cool on a wire rack. Cover; chill to store. Makes 8 servings.
*Meringue for Pie
3 egg whites
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t cream of tartar (optional)
6 T sugar
In a small mixer bowl, beat the egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar [BUT NOT THE SUGAR] at medium speed of an electric mixer about 1 minute or until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, about 1 T at a time, beating at high speed of electric mixer about 4 minutes more or until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks and sugar is dissolved. Immediately spread meringue over pie, carefully sealing to edge of pastry to prevent shrinkage. Bake as directed in individual pie recipe.