There is no need to cry over lemon meringue pie… that is assuming none of the myriad of things which could go wrong do.
There are a lot of techniques involved in a lemon meringue pie; however none of them are actually too difficult – and almost anyone who has baked before will have tried most of them. The trick is to time the final stages – the filling and the meringue topping – so that the meringue is put onto a steaming hot filling (more on this later).
The main problem that I had making this pie was not me bursting into tears but rather the meringue weeping profusely until it was sitting in a puddle of its own juices. Weeping can happen for a number of reasons and is a classic issue that can arise when making meringue. The first cause of weeping – a universal one – is that the sugar is not properly dissolved into the egg whites. This can be prevented by adding the sugar slowly to the egg whites and giving it a bit of time (twenty seconds or so) between each addition to dissolve. You can test if the meringue is ready after all of the sugar has been added by rubbing a little bit of meringue mix between two fingers and checking that it does not feel gritty. If the mix is smooth, the meringue is ready.
When putting the meringue on to the pie, you want to put it on a hot filling. I have seen recipes where people will make the meringue before the pie filling (because once made, it is very stable)! By adding the meringue on top of hot filling and sealing the meringue around the edge, the steam coming up from the filling will travel through the meringue and cook it from beneath. The heat of the oven will crisp up the outside; the result is a nicely cooked pie without the meringue floating on a lake of lemony syrup – ready to slide off any slice you try to remove from the pie. If the filling is cold when you add the meringue and bake in the oven, the filling is reheated slightly and begins to steam – however the top of the meringue has already crisped up and seals the steam inside. This steam then condenses on the meringue/lemon filling boundary and then slowly begins to dissolve the meringue from beneath.
Finally, meringue pie is best eaten on the day it is make. Ideally you want to make the pie, bake the pie, let it cool out of the fridge and then serve. Chilling the pie in the fridge will also cause the condensation of any steam resulting the sugary lemon soup. The addition of the cornflour should help prevent watery pie but again, this is probably one of those things you need to bake a few times (oh the hardship…) to really get to know your oven and get your head around the recipe.
Lemon Meringue Pie
Time: 3-4 hours
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
60ml ice cold water (take this from the fridge or even a glass of water with ice in if you have some available)
Zest 5 lemons
300ml lemon juice
6 egg yolks
6 egg whites
12 oz caster sugar
2 tbsp corn flour
To make the pastry:
Food processor method:
Combine all ingredients other than the water in the bowl of the processor and blend until the mixture resembles sand.
Pour in the water while the processor is on and continue to blend for about five seconds until the mixture starts to clump a little.
Pour out onto a bean surface and press the pastry into a ball. Make sure it is smoothly combined.
Wrap and chill for an hour
To blind bake the pastry:
Roll the pastry out to 3mm thickness and line a tart tin with it.
Prick the base all over with a fork.
Freeze for 10 minutes
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Place a layer of foil or baking parchment over the pastry and weigh it down with baking beads or dried beans/rice (I recommend investing in baking beads as any food stuff you use will not be edible after being baked)
Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the baking beads and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the pastry is golden all over.
Leave in the tin to cool.
To make the filling:
Whisk together the yolks, sugar and zest. Set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the lemon juice and 300ml of the water.
Whisk the final 100ml water together with the cornflour to create a slurry and then whisk this into the lemon water.
Heat the lemon cornflour mix, whisking constantly, until it thickens dramatically. It will go sort of paste like. Continue to whisk and heat until it starts to boil to ensure the cornflour is fully cooked.
Slowly stream the thickened mixture into the egg yolk mix while whisking until it is all combined.
Return the lemon filling to saucepan and heat gently whilst stirring until it thickens even more – make sure to keep stirring to avoid scrambling the eggs as this is where you cook them. If the mixture starts to bubble, remove from the heat immediately as it is most certainly cooked!
Pour into the tart case until it comes about 3mm from the top. This lip is important as the meringue will sit inside the pastry which should contain any weeping which could occur.
Heat your oven to gas mark 3 (170°C).
In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks. You could do this with an electric beater or even by hand but this will take significantly longer (and doing it by hand is far too much effort for me.
Add the salt and slowly incorporate the sugar a spoon at a time whisking after each addition. If you do this too fast, you will deflate the meringue!
Whisk through the cornflour.
Spoon/pipe the meringue into a tall dome on top of the hot pie (don’t feel like you need to use it all). Make sure to seal the meringue around the edges of the pie by ensuring that it is touching the pastry case all the way round.
If you have just spooned the meringue on, use the back of a spoon to shape the meringue into little peaks.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes, turning halfway, until the outside is golden all over.
You can also use a mini blowtorch after baking to bring out any detail which isn’t too visible.
Leave to cool to room temperature and eat within 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the higher chance of weepy meringue!
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy perfecting your meringue technique before you try something a bit more complicated like this, I have recipes for both swiss and French meringue on this site. I also have a selection of simpler tarts too!
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious beef and rice dish.