The first dishes I ever made from scratch were desserts. My mother encouraged me to bake with her very early on, and our projects would range from simple weeknight desserts to elaborate treats we’d serve at dinner parties. She kept a binder filled with handwritten recipes and clippings from old newspapers and magazines, which I would read like a storybook. She marked all the recipes with the date she first made them, along with a short appreciative comment such as “TB!” (Très bon! – Very good!). Sometimes she would note substitutions or the exact occasion for which the dessert was made, such as a birthday or a family reunion. I was especially fond of the very old clippings, those dating from my very early childhood or before I was born; the paper had turned yellow and brittle and smelled like dusty antique books. In a way, her recipe binders were like family keepsake albums: flipping through them allowed me to trace the evolution of my mother’s—and our family’s—tastes over the years.
After coaching me for a few years, my mom started delegating dessert-making to me from time to time. I was more than happy to take over the task: brownies and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting were among my favorite things to make. But the very first dessert I remember making fully on my own is lemon meringue pie. Granted, I made it from a store-bought mix, but I was so proud of the result: the crust was delightfully buttery, the lemon custard silky and tart, and the meringue so delightfully airy! It was not a typical super-sweet kids’ treat, and I remember how sophisticated it felt to bite into that tart yellow filling. Licking the bowl of fluffy meringue also made me feel ridiculously happy, and it still does to this day.
As a child who loved baking, it never crossed my mind to make lemon meringue pie from scratch and I’m not sure why. I was used to making desserts from scratch, but perhaps the fact that I was cracking eggs, adding melted butter and water, and mixing ingredients together made it seem like a legit recipe. In any case, I decided lemon meringue pie was my signature dessert and my love for it has continued to grow over the years.
Of course, I eventually realized I needed to start squeezing and zesting real lemons to make a really good lemon meringue pie. I’m sure I’ve made hundreds of lemon meringue pies over the years. At first, I would test a different recipe every time; then I settled on a specific technique and focused on tweaking it. The recipe below has been my go-to for years now. There’s just nothing to tweak or change about it anymore: it’s lemon meringue pie in its purest and brightest form. It tastes like sunshine on a summer day.
Helpful Lemon Meringue Pie-Making Tips:
- Type of crust: You can make lemon meringue pie using a variety of crusts. You can make your own classic pie dough (here’s a reliable recipe), or use store-bought pie dough. Both of these options require blind-baking before you pour in the lemon pie filling. But I prefer the taste of a nutty, crunchy cookie-like crust against the tart lemon filling. Plus, a press-in dough is so easy to make—it’s pretty much foolproof! The crust I include in the recipe below is reminiscent of shortbread, and it’s my grown-up version of the graham cracker crust that came with the lemon meringue pie store-bought mix I used as a kid. Doesn’t the combination of hazelnut shortbread, zesty lemon cream, and sweet meringue sound absolutely dreamy? My point exactly. Please give my hazelnut press-in crust a try: I’ll bet you’ll never look back.
- Variety of lemons: I’ve made this pie both with Meyer lemons and regular lemons. I find that using only Meyer lemons creates a filling that’s slightly too sweet for my taste—I like lemon meringue pie to be generously zingy. I personally love using only regular lemons, but I’ve noticed some people find this filling a bit too puckery. I’ve therefore adopted a combination of 1/3 regular lemons, 2/3 Meyer lemons, and ½ cup (125 ml) sugar, which creates a beautifully aromatic pie with an assertive lemon taste that’s rounded off by just enough sweetness to make it universally pleasing.
- French or Italian meringue? There are pros and cons to both types of meringues. French meringue is easier and quicker to make, but it doesn’t hold well over time. You’ll find it will deflate and start “weeping” (leak water over the lemon pie filling) after spending the night in the fridge. Italian meringue is a bit trickier to make—and it does require the use of a candy thermometer—but it’s a denser, more marshmallowy meringue that holds for several days (see photo of a 2-day-old Italian meringue below). I prefer Italian meringue for its taste, texture, and longer shelf-life, but the bottom line is that you should only make French meringue if the pie is to be eaten the day it is made.
- Ingredient quantities: You will need 6 eggs and 3 to 4 lemons to make this recipe.
Watch my helpful how-to video before you get started:
Makes one 9 inch (22 cm) pie; 8-10 servings.
This Lemon Meringue Pie recipe will create a truly memorable dessert: the easy, cookie-like hazelnut crust combined with the zesty filling and creamy Italian meringue will delight all fans of this classic dessert. Helpful tips and how-to video included!
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
For the hazelnut shortbread crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly grease a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom and set on a baking sheet. Add the flour, hazelnuts, powdered sugar, lemon zest, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Process until the hazelnuts are finely ground. (If using ground hazelnuts, simply combine the ingredients in a large mixing bowl.) In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, zest, and salt. Drizzle in the butter; stir with a fork to combine, then rub the mixture using your fingers so the butter distributes evenly. Press the mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside, leaving the oven on.
For the lemon filling: Combine the butter, lemon juice, sugar, and lemon zest in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from the heat. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the whole eggs. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the warm butter and lemon juice mixture. (It’s essential to pour the hot mixture very slowly and to whisk throughout the process to warm the eggs slowly, otherwise you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!) Scrape the warm egg mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Whisk constantly until the filling thickens and resembles custard, which should take 4 to 5 minutes. Do not let it boil.
Pour the lemon filling into the pre-baked pie shell. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set over a cooling rack. When the pie comes out of the oven, the filling will still be jiggly. It will firm up as it cools.
For the Italian meringue: Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring from time to time at the beginning of the process to make sure the sugar is fully dissolved. Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, stop stirring and keep a close eye on the candy thermometer. Turn off the heat once the sugar mixture hits 240°F (115°C). (Leave the candy thermometer in.)
Brush the lemon wedge inside the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large stainless steel mixing bowl), then add the egg whites. Alternatively, combine the egg whites and lemon juice or cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a clean stainless steel bowl. Whip until soft peaks form, then stop the mixer. Check whether the sugar syrup is still at 240°F (115°C) and reheat if needed. Set the mixer to low speed, then very slowly stream the sugar syrup into the egg whites. (The mixer should keep running at all times while you pour in the hot sugar syrup, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!) Once all the sugar syrup is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the meringue is bright white, shiny, fluffy and forms firm (but not stiff) peaks, about 3 minutes. The meringue will still be warm by the end of the process.
Unmold the pie and transfer to a serving plate. Spread the meringue over the lemon pie filling. (It’s ok if the pie is still warm). Use the back of a spoon to create a spiral pattern or decorative peaks. You could also transfer the meringue to a pastry bag to pipe it over the pie. Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue. Alternatively, set an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the broiler. Set the pie on a baking sheet and put it under the broiler. Keep an eye on the pie at all times and rotate it frequently to toast the meringue as evenly as possible.
Let the pie cool completely (you can refrigerate it for an hour to speed up the process).
For the hazelnut praline: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar and water over medium heat, stirring with a silicon spatula, until the sugar is completely melted. Bring to a full boil and cook, without stirring, carefully swirling the pan from time to time, until the caramel turns to a beautiful amber color. Working very quickly, remove from the heat, add the hazelnuts, stir just to incorporate, and then spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Let cool at room temperature (or in the fridge if you’re in a rush) until the praline is set and hard, 15 to 30 minutes. Break the praline into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to use. To sprinkle over the lemon meringue pie, pulse in a food processor until you reach a coarse consistency. The praline (or praline powder) will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.
Sprinkle the lemon meringue pie with crushed hazelnut praline, then slice and serve. Sprinkle each serving with additional praline, if desired.
Refrigerate leftover lemon meringue pie under a cake dome or in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- How to Toast and Peel Hazelnuts: Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350°F (170°C) for 15 minutes, giving the tray a good shake every five minutes. When the skin of the hazelnuts is shiny and crackled, remove from the oven and transfer to a clean dish towel. Close the towel up into a bundle and rub the hazelnuts against one another vigorously to remove the skin. Open the towel and pick up the peeled hazelnuts. Some bits of skin will remain but that’s ok! Keep the peeled hazelnuts in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.
- How to Make French Meringue: This meringue is simpler and faster to make but will not sit well. You should only make French meringue if the pie will be eaten the day it is made. Wipe a lemon wedge inside the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large stainless steel mixing bowl), then add 3 egg whites. Alternatively, combine 3 egg whites and ½ tsp (2 ml) lemon juice or ½ tsp (2 ml) cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a clean stainless steel bowl. Whip until soft peaks form, then add ½ tsp (2 ml) pure vanilla extract and 1 tbsp (15 ml) granulated sugar. Whip for 1 minute, then add 1 tbsp (15 ml) granulated sugar. Repeat until you’ve added a total of 6 tbsp (90 ml) of sugar. Spread over the lemon pie filling (the pie should be room temperature or cold before you top it with French meringue), then brown using a kitchen torch or under the broiler. Serve within a few hours.
Recipe Credit: Marie Asselin, FoodNouveau.com