This perfect Lemon Meringue Pie is a truly memorable dessert: the easy, cookie-like hazelnut crust combined with the zesty filling and creamy meringue will delight all fans of this classic dessert.
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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 perfect 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: this perfect lemon meringue pie is a representation of the classic dessert in its purest and brightest form. It tastes like sunshine on a summer day!
You can make lemon meringue pie using a variety of crusts. You can make your own shortcrust pastry from scratch—here’s my foolproof food processor shortcrust recipe if you want to go that route)—or you can use store-bought pie dough. Both of these options require blind-baking before you pour in the lemon pie filling and bake it. While a roll-in crust is a traditional vessel for lemon meringue pie, I’m suggesting you try something different: a simple, press-in, shortbread-type of crust. The taste of a nutty, crunchy cookie-like crust against the tart lemon filling is just irresistible! Plus, a press-in dough is so quick and easy to make—it’s pretty much foolproof!
The crust I include in my perfect Lemon Meringue Pie recipe is 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.
You can use good old regular lemons to make this pie, but if you can get your hands on a bag of Meyer lemons (usually available in the winter, from December to March), you should give them a try: Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter and they have a delightfully flowery aroma. Using only Meyer lemons will produce a lemon meringue pie that’s sweeter, less “zingy,” which a lot of people enjoy.
What I like to do when Meyer lemons are in season is to use a combination of 1/3 regular lemons, 2/3 Meyer lemons. This produces a beautifully aromatic pie with an assertive lemon taste that’s rounded off by just enough sweetness to make it universally pleasing.
There are pros and cons to all three types of meringues.
French meringue is easier and quicker to make: You simply beat egg whites with sugar until they’re stiff and glossy. No heat or syrup is required. The issue with French meringue is that it doesn’t hold well over time. You’ll find it will deflate and start “weeping” (leak liquid over the lemon pie filling) after spending the night in the fridge. You should only make French meringue if the lemon meringue pie will be eaten the day it is made.
Italian meringue is more technical to make: You need to create a syrup with the use of a candy thermometer, and then pour this hot syrup over egg whites while you beat them. This creates a gorgeous meringue that holds well, but the syrup technique can be tricky—not to mention the fact it requires a specific piece of equipment to make. This is a classic, tried-and-true technique, which is why I’m including it in this recipe.
The Swiss method is the best of both worlds: It’s as easy as beating all the ingredients together, yet it can be prepared in advance and holds for days because it is cooked. The difference between the Italian and the Swiss methods is that instead of cooking the meringue by mixing in a hot syrup, you simply beat it in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. It does require more beating time, but it’s a one-step, foolproof technique, and this is why the Swiss method has been my go-to technique to make meringue for years. If you’ve never made meringue before, I suggest you start with the Swiss method—this is the one I use all the time and the one I included in my recipe below. The recipe also includes the French meringue method as an alternative.
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