This elegant lemon meringue pie recipe is the perfect dessert for special occasions. Follow my simple techniques to master the delicious buttery crust, tart citrus curd, and silky whipped topping.
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One of the most jaw-dropping and gorgeous desserts has to be lemon meringue pie. Its stunning beauty combines flaky pie crust, tart lemon filling, and light egg white topping. For maximum flavor, I’ll show you have to make the shell from scratch.
In culinary school, I learned how to make lemon curd and meringue. It was tricky initially, but it was doable once I understood the techniques. I’ll share tips for properly tempering the egg-based filling to prevent curdling. Plus, you’ll be able to master a classic Italian meringue technique (sounds fancy, but it’s simple) and get to use a blow torch.
Making the pie crust
I use a classic pie crust recipe called Pâte Brisée, a simple combination of flour, butter, salt, and water. It makes a sturdy but tender shell perfect for holding heavy filling. It’s crucial to allow the dough to chill for at least 4 hours. This duration gives the gluten proteins time to relax, so it doesn’t taste hard after baking.
I recommend preparing the pie dough a day or two ahead of time, so it’s easy to roll out and bake the day of serving.
Thoroughly bake the pie crust
The lemon curd pie filling and meringue topping cook on the stovetop and are then placed into the fully baked crust. After rolling and shaping the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, I use a blind-baking technique.
The crust is baked briefly with pie weights to prevent the bottom from puffing up due to steam release. It also helps to set the shape with minimal shrinking. After removing the weights, the shell bakes again until golden brown and dry. Make sure to cool it completely before adding the filling.
Make a sweet and tart lemon filling
The hallmark of this dessert is the citrus flavor and tart pucker. Fresh lemon juice and lemon zest, balanced with granulated sugar, provide a bold taste. The filling is a curd that’s opaque in appearance with a sticky, sliceable jelly-like texture.
The mixture is thickened with cornstarch and eggs; however, they must be correctly cooked by tempering to keep the consistency smooth.
Temper the eggs to prevent curdling
This process is similar to making the custard for my banana cream pie but uses an acidic sugar mixture instead of milk. Add egg yolks, water, sugar, and cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Add water, lemon juice, zest, salt, and sugar in a separate pot, and simmer at 190 to 200ºF (87 to 93ºC).
Gradually add the hot lemon mixture to the egg mixture and whisk, stirring constantly. The eggs curdle between 149 to 158°F (64 to 70ºC) with direct heat, so it’s essential to add the hot liquid in multiple additions not to raise the temperature too fast.
Then the tempered egg mixture is whisked into the remaining lemon mixture and cooked on the stovetop. I vigorously stir to ensure the cornstarch doesn’t clump up and reaches its full thickening capability. Mixing in butter and stirring the lemon curd keeps the texture super smooth.
Fill and chill
The lemon filling will be hot, so remove it from the heat. Let it cool until warm but spreadable, about 100ºF (37ºC). You want to finish cooling the curd in the pie crust. As the temperature lowers, the cornstarch sets and becomes rigid, holding its shape for slicing.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it feels cold and stiffens, about 6 hours or overnight.
Making the meringue topping
To make the sugar syrup, heat 1 cup of sugar plus two tablespoons and ½ cup of water. The hot sugar syrup is heated to 240°F (115°C) and added to the whipping whites. Gradually incorporating gently cooks the albumin in the whites to set the protein structure. Continue beating until you add all of the sugar syrup.
Egg whites coagulate, set, and cook between 144 to 149°F (62 to 65ºC). This technique incorporates air to increase the volume and yield a thick, smooth, and glossy topping. This texture will make it easy to pipe designs or create a rustic appearance with a spatula.
Option to use cream of tarter
In addition to the hot sugar, you can use a small amount of cream of tartar (an acid) as a stabilizer. Use ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar per egg white; therefore, ½ teaspoon for this recipe. Add it to the room-temperature egg whites at the beginning of the whipping. It alters the electrical charge of the egg’s proteins, reducing the interactions.
Using cream of tartar takes a little more time to foam but ultimately makes it more stable. However, I find Italian meringue stable enough, so I don’t use it.
French vs. Italian meringue
French meringue beats the egg white raw with sugar, then bakes the whole pie to cook the eggs. It might seem more straightforward, but it’s more prone to weeping later and might not cook to the center of the topping. This would be an excellent time to add cream of tartar.
I feel safer eating the Italian meringue that thoroughly cooks the egg whites, so there’s no concern that it’s raw when eating.
Brown the topping
To add the finishing touch to the pie, I lightly brown the surface with a small handheld torch, similar to making a creme brulee. Hold the flame a few inches away and gently move it around, so the sugar doesn’t burn. The torched spots add a beautiful contrast in color to the white meringue.
Serving the pie
Once you add the meringue topping, serve the pie immediately for the best taste quality. You can refrigerate it for a few hours but eat it the same day. Make sure to keep it cool, as it does contain eggs. You can store leftover slices in the refrigerator for one day.
Frequently asked questions
Yes! The filling is egg custard, and the meringue topping is made from egg whites. It’s important to refrigerate it after 2 hours at room temperature and for storing.
Avoid freezing because the cornstarch in the filling will rupture and release water when defrosting.
If the filling is watery, the cornstarch was not hot enough to cause the starches to absorb the water and swell to their maximum capacity. If the meringue topping becomes watery or “weeps,” you may have overbeat the egg whites, which could make them rigid and prone to weeping.
Making a stable meringue
To avoid weeping, the egg whites must not be under or overbeaten. The latter causes the foam to become too rigid and break. Sugar helps to stabilize the foam because it dissolves into the egg and slows down the released moisture. If added too early, it can inhibit foaming, so incorporate it before the egg reaches soft peaks.
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Lemon Meringue Pie
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, ¼" cubes, chilled
- ½ cup ice-cold water, chilled
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 cups water, plus 1 ½ teaspoons, divided
- 4 large egg yolks, reserve egg whites
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 large egg whites, from reserved, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
- ½ cup water
- Prepare the Crust Ingredients – Add ice cubes and water to a measuring cup. Cut the butter into 1/4" cubes. Place both items in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Break Down the Butter – In a stand mixer bowl, add the flour and salt. Mix using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed (stir) for about 10-seconds. Add chilled diced butter to the bowl. On the lowest speed, turn the mixer on and off quickly for a few seconds to coat the butter with the flour to prevent the flour from spilling.Continue to mix on low speed until the flour and butter resemble wet sand with coarse crumbles and pea-sized pieces remaining, about 75 seconds. Use your fingers to break up any large pieces. Do not over-mix. The dough should not bind together before the water is added.
- Hydrate the Dough – Gradually add 1 tablespoon of ice-cold water to the bowl. After each addition, turn the mixer on for 2 to 3-seconds. Add enough water until the dough looks lumpy and hydrated but not wet or sticky. It should begin to clump together with small crumbles on the bottom of the bowl. All of the water may not be needed, about 5 to 7 tablespoons is typical. When the dough is pinched together, it should compress and hold, not be dry or crumbly. Do not over-mix. The dough will be pressed together before resting.
- Rest the Dough – Press the dough into a 1” thick round disc and wrap it in plastic, then place it in a resealable bag. Store in the refrigerator to rest for at least 4 hours, overnight, or up to 2 days.
- Roll the Dough – Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes to make it easier to roll. If it’s still too hard, let it sit at room temperature until more pliable.Dust the counter and dough with flour. Rotate and dust with flour underneath and on the top to prevent sticking and make it easier to transfer. Roll into a 14-inch circle, slightly less than 1/4" thick.
- Form the Crust – Place the rolled-out dough into a 9-inch pie dish and gently press against the sides and bottom. With a paring knife, trim the excess leaving a 1/2" overhang. Tuck the excess underneath the bottom crust edges. Crimp by pinching the pointer and thumb fingers. Place the crust in the freezer for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the Oven – Place the oven rack in the center position. Preheat to 375°F (190°C). Place the pie crust on a sheet pan.
- Bake the Crust – Place a piece of parchment paper over the crust and add the pie weights to cover just the bottom and sides, do not overfill. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow the weights to sit in the crust for a few minutes to press down any puffed areas. Carefully remove the parchment paper with weights from the pie dish and set it aside. It will not be used again.Continue to bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven. Use a spoon to gently press the bottom down and sides up, don’t force it too much. Finish baking until golden brown and dry, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack until completely cooled, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Lemon Filling – In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup sugar and cornstarch. In a medium bowl, whisk together ½ cup plus 1 ½ teaspoon water and egg yolks. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Set aside.In a medium saucepan, add 1 ½ cup water, ½ cup sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Stir together and simmer over medium-high heat. Once the mixture reaches 190 to 200ºF (87 to 93ºC), about 3 minutes, turn off the heat.
- Temper the Eggs – Place the bowl with the egg mixture in between a kitchen towel. Temper the eggs by slowly ladling in ¼ cup (60 ml) of the hot lemon mixture into the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Continue this process until 1 ¼ cups of the lemon mixture is added.Whisk the tempered egg mixture into the remaining lemon mixture in the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high, and continuously whisk until the consistency thickens. Be careful not to scramble the eggs, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter.
- Add the Filling to the Crust – Immediately strain the lemon filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl using a spatula to press. Cool the filling until it's warm but spreadable, about 100ºF (37ºC). Evenly spread the filling into the fully baked and cooled pie crust.Cover the surface with plastic wrap, directly touching the filling to prevent a film from forming. Chill in the refrigerator until the filling sets, about 6 hours, or refrigerate overnight. Once set, make the meringue topping.
- Meringue Mixture – Make sure the stand mixer bowl and the whisk attachment are clean. Any grease or fat will not allow the egg whites to whip up. Add the egg whites, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Set aside until the sugar syrup is ready.In a clean medium saucepan, add the sugar and water. Use a wooden spoon to mix them carefully. Make sure the sides of the pot are free of any sugar. If any sugar is left on the sides, it can become hard and crystallize, causing the rest of the sugar to do the same.Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Use a candy thermometer and place it in the pot, or check with an instant-read thermometer. Cook the sugar to 240°F (115°C), the "soft ball" stage of cooked sugar.
- Whip the Whites – Immediately start the mixer on speed 6. Whip the whites until foamy and bubbly, but no peaks form, about 1 minute. Do not turn the mixer off, increase the speed to 8. Immediately add the hot sugar in a steady and single stream. This should take about 30 to 45 seconds.After all the hot sugar has been added, increase the speed to 10. Whip until the meringue becomes thick and shiny, and can hold its peak, but not too stiff and/or foamy. The bottom of the mixing bowl should feel lukewarm but cold, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Top the Pie – Take the filled pie shell out of the refrigerator. Remove the whipped whites from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula put the meringue on the pie. Using an offset spatula, gently spread the meringue around, giving it a rustic appearance.
- Toast the Meringue – Using a hand-held cooking torch, toast parts of the surface until golden brown.
- No Yolks in the Whites: When separating the eggs into yolks and whites, ensure that reserved whites have no yolks in them. Otherwise, it will be harder to make light and airy foam.
- Storing: Refrigerate the pie for up to 1 day. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the cut or exposed pie.
- Baking the Meringue: Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake at 400ºF (204ºC) until some of the surface turns golden brown, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, and serve immediately.
- Serving: It’s best to serve the pie right away for the best texture. If not eating immediately, store it in the refrigerator, but enjoy it the same day. To slice, run a knife under warm water, then dry it off, and then make a single cut. Repeat the process for making every cut. This makes for clean slices.
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4 Comments Leave a comment or review
Judy Caywood says
Lemon Meringue pie is my favorite and the only pie my husband and I have made together as I have been teaching him too cook and he loves your recipes too. We will have to give this a try once we get moved. I can’t rate it yet but everything you do is a 5. That is just a given for me. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Jessica. xo Judy
Jessica Gavin says
I can’t wait for you guys to make this together! Happy thanksgiving Judy!
If I was to use cream of tartar, how much would I use? I don’t have the confidence to make the meringue correctly. I tried making this a long time ago and the pie was good except for the meringue so I never made it again. Would I use 1/8th of a teaspoon?
Jessica Gavin says
I would use 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar for 4 large egg whites. Add it at the beginning, it may take a little longer to foam but will make the meringue topping even more stable. Let me know how it goes!