How to Make the Best Lemon Meringue Pie Like Your Grandmother's

By Susan Lundman

Start to Finish: 3 hours
Servings: 6
Difficulty: Intermediate

With a combination of tangy lemon custard and a sweet meringue topping, lemon meringue pie is one of America's classic desserts, popular since the mid 1800s, says John F. Mariani, author of Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, quoted in Food Timeline. Use real ingredients in your pie and pay attention to long-standing techniques to achieve results that rival those of your grandma's.

This recipe is adapted from Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons very cold water

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Meringue

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Make the Crust

Stir together the flour and the salt.

Cut in the shortening and butter to the flour mixture. Process the dough in three to four pulses and an additional three to four seconds in a food processor or cut the fats into the flour with two sharp knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-size bits.

Mix the water into the dough, one tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork or pulsing the food processor between each addition, until the dough begins to form a ball. Add an additional tablespoon of water if the dough remains crumbly.

Roll out the dough and prick it with sharp tines of a fork seven or eight times to help keep the crust flat, without air pockets.

Bake the crust in a 450-degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 to 12 minutes until it is golden brown. Set it aside to cool on a wire rack.

Make the Filling

Add the sugar, cornstarch, cold water and lemon juice into a cooking pot and whisk it thoroughly until it is well blended.

Beat the egg yolks in a small bowl with a fork until they turn a soft shade of yellow. Add the beaten egg yolks and the butter to the pot.

Add the boiling water to the pot, stirring constantly. Bring the mixture to a full boil on high heat stirring gently throughout.

Reduce the heat to medium low once the mixture begins to thicken and simmer it for an additional minute, until the cornstarch turns from cloudy to clear.

Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the lemon zest and set the pot aside to cool to room temperature, about 40 minutes. Letting the filling cool prevents steam from coming between the filling and the meringue and ultimately causing excess moisture, or weepiness, in the meringue.

Make the Meringue

Whip the egg whites until they're foamy, then add the cream of tartar. Whip again until the white are stiff and stand in peaks with only the tips of the peaks leaning over.

Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating slightly between additions. Add the vanilla and beat once more, making sure that the peaks are still soft on top and the meringue isn't dry.

Assemble the Pie

Pour the cooled filling into the pie crust and top it with the meringue, pushing it all the way to the edges of the crust, so that it touches the crust all around the pie.

Press down on the meringue with the back of a spoon to eliminate air pockets that might cause shrinking. Create peaks on the meringue by pressing gently with the spoon and lifting it quickly all over the pie.

Bake the meringue in a 350 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes until it is golden. Use pasteurized eggs if you're worried about the risk of Salmonella bacteria in eggs or use regular eggs and follow the safety guidelines on Foodsafety.gov, cooking the topping for 15 minutes.

Let the pie and the filling cool and set for at least one hour or up to three hours in the refrigerator.

Tips for Success

Follow practices that your grandmother probably did to make the best-tasting and the best-looking pie:

  • After cooking the meringue on top of the pie, let the pie cool on a rack to room temperature before refrigerating it. This helps keep the top from shrinking back from the filling.
  • Slicing the pie is easiest if you refrigerate it for at least three hours to completely set the filling. Use a sharp knife dipped in hot water between cutting each piece. Cut with a slight up-and-down sawing motion instead of simply pressing down on the filling.