This was a learning experience and a half, but I enjoyed every minute of it!
I’ve sort of been waiting for that “fail” moment since starting this food blog. I figured that it would happen during a baking experiment, and it’s no surprise that it happened during a rather technical one. But hey, no humiliation here whatsoever! Our successes come from our failures, and I’m happy to demonstrate the “do’s” and the “absolutely do not’s” of making a lemon meringue pie. It’s not rocket science, but it is science.
I made this for my Dad, because today is his birthday. I’m glad I made the first pie yesterday, because it was a bust and I can at least say that he got the delicious and successful lemon meringue on his actual birthday.
Considering I’ve never made a pie on my own before, even the “fail” pie was decent. From what I’ve read, people typically fail on the meringue or the lemon filling. I did all right with that, surprisingly.
I’m going to talk about the fail first, because if it’s your first time making lemon meringue pie, there are things you will want to know that I wish I had known upon embarking on this adventure. The recipe I followed was quite brief and didn’t explain things very well.
If you’re feeling over-confident and just want the recipe, scroll away!
All right, ladies and gents. I present to you…my humble pie.
Because I was too focused on getting the lemon filling and the meringue right, I kind of/sort of forgot to pre-bake the pie shell. Hahaha nervous laugh haha. That was basically my only error (not bad, hey?) but it caused a snowball effect. Once I realized that I hadn’t pre-baked the pie shell (you know, after I had already dumped the filling into it) I thought that I could possibly rectify the situation by baking the pie a little longer. Note to self: sh!t doesn’t work like that in the world of baking. There is no forgiveness! There is no right’ing wrongs!
As a result of baking the pie for longer than I was supposed to, the meringue browned across the entire top, as opposed to just the peaks. The peaks were burnt, and the meringue had the consistency of an old used up sponge. In addition to that, the lemon filling wept all over the place like a sad pie should. And the crust, well, it wasn’t much of a crust seeing as it wasn’t cooked through. What we ended up with was a raw dough-shell with a traumatized lemon sauce and a spongy hat. I had a piece, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t the worst! …But it wasn’t the best.
Things you want to take note of before baking a lemon meringue pie
- Pre-bake that pie shell! There are several techniques to “blind baking”. Click here to check them out.
- There is chemistry involved in the making of the lemon filling. This is a Bill Nye kind of pie. You don’t need beakers or anything, just…focus! The lemon filling is made up of components that don’t get along very well. You can read all of the nitty gritty details here, but in short: starch is relied upon to thicken the lemon filling. Sadly, the lemon juice, in addition to the heat you’re working over, the fat and the enzymes in raw eggs all work against the thickening ability of starch. They’re all against you. They’re all gonna laugh at you. So, it’s important to really stick with the proper measurements when making your filling. If you feel the urge to add more lemon juice than called for because you like your desserts to be extra tart…fight that urge! Fight it! It’s not worth the lemon-y swimming pool that you will get as a result. You wouldn’t mess with chemicals in a lab, right? Well, don’t do it here, either. The kitchen is your lab, and the lemon filling is the volatile acid that has the ability to explode in your face and burn your confidence. Holy crap Dana, shut up.
- The right amount of heat is also an important factor. If your mixture gets and stays too hot, your starch granules can implode and release their liquid back into the mixture, which reduces the viscosity of your pie filling. Blah blah blah, I know. Basically, medium heat and watch that consistency closely. Whisk, but whisk responsibly. If you whisk the mixture too forcefully and excitedly (I get excited when I cook, all right?) during the heating process, those hot bloated starch granules will likely burst. I mean, you don’t see them burst, because you can’t see the granules because they are microscopic but…they’ll do some noticeable damage! Continuing to stir after removing the mixture from the heat is also a bad idea. The amylose released from the starch granules will be doing the final job of setting the pie filling, so basically, “Do Not Disturb”. You do not want to destroy the silky, firm texture that we’re after. This is not a forgiving network of ingredients. Leave them be. Move on!
- Meringue. I made the mistake of mixing meringue after doing weights at the gym, and I thought my arm was going to fall off. Meringue can take forever to mix, so if you have a stand-alone mixer, good for you. If you’re like me and using a hand-mixer, good luck. More on this when I cover it in the recipe below.
So, as you can see, this isn’t something you can just slap together carelessly.
Are you ready to rock? Or have I turned you off of making lemon meringue pie? Don’t be silly. You can totally do this. If not on the first shot, then on the second shot. Experience, folks. It’s all about experience. Now, let’s do this!
- 1 pie shell (Make it, buy it, whatever. I buy mine because there are some things in life that I feel don’t need to be made from scratch if readily available. A pie shell is one of those things).
For the lemon filling
- 1 cup of white granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp. of all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp. corn starch
- 1/4 tsp of sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 2 lemons, juiced and zested
- 2 tbsp. of butter
- 4 egg yolks, beaten (save all four egg whites)
For the meringue
- 4 egg whites
- 6 tbsp. of white granulated sugar
- A pinch of cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Let’s start with the lemon filling. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon zest.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Stir in the butter.
Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl, and gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the hot lemon mixture. I did this by scooping the mixture into a cup from the saucepan with a spatula. Whisk, then add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. This is just to prevent shock. Bring to a boil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until it thickens. Remove from the heat, and pour the filling into the baked pie shell.
Onto the meringue!
In a large metal or glass bowl, whip the egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar until the mixture becomes frothy. Add the 6 tbsp. of sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
Like I mentioned earlier, this could take some time. It sort of makes me laugh to think of the idiom, “I’m going to whip something up real quick” because this, my friends, does not whip up quickly. You may get to a point where you are questioning whether or not you’ve done things right. Just keep going. It took me about 10-15 minutes of whipping this mixture until it was a proper meringue. (Flex!)
After a while, the mixture will start to stiffen and you will notice that waves are appearing in the bowl. This is a good sign.
Keep going until the meringue is thick enough to form peaks that stand on their own.
When done, spread the meringue on top of the lemon filling. You can form some ridges or peaks, whatever you like! Then pop it in the oven for 10 mins., or until the peaks/ridges of the meringue start to turn a nice shade of golden brown.
Allow the pie to set for two hours before cutting into it. Do not refrigerate it while it’s setting, because you will be messing with that complex chemistry. Just leave it on the counter, and admire those golden peaks!
After about two hours, it’s safe to dig in.
And in case you were wondering, this second attempt got my Dad’s stamp of approval :)
Happy birthday, Dad!