Lemon Meringue Pie

I've mentioned more than once on this blog the first ever dessert I baked on my own, the one that peaked my interest in baking and put me on my current flour and sugar dusted path: this simple Brownie Pie, aka the pie that started it all, one of the first recipes to be shared on P&B, and the main character in my how I started cooking/baking! story. But what about my second ever dessert?! What was the dessert that came after the famous Brownie Pie, and before all other sweets to come out of my kitchen since?! Ehem: the encore to my initial dessert success came in the form of a Baked Alaska, its recipe from a very small, rather old cookbook in my mom's collection that I'd stumbled across. Baked Alaska -- a vintage dessert from the 1950s, essentially an ice cream sponge topped with meringue -- mystified my thirteen year old self. Was it a cake or an ice cream pie?! And in any case: this ice cream went in the oven?! Covered with what was essentially egg whites?!

Needless to say, I needed to make it.

The Baked Alaska was for my dad, my contribution to a Father's Day Barbecue. I followed the recipe carefully, reading and re-reading to make sure I'd understood all the steps: I baked the cake layer, topped it with the carefully selected ice cream flavor (strawberry) and attempted my first ever meringue, which amazed me most of all: I marveled at how a few humble egg whites -- the less interesting part of the egg, really -- morphed into a fluffy white cloud (!!!) with just some beating and a slow steady stream of sugar. And that wasn't all!: when the Baked Alaska emerged from the oven, not only was the the ice cream still frozen, but the meringue had transformed, too! It was swirled and toasted and marshmallow like, nothing like its formerly slimy egg white self, and I found this marvelous, delightful, and, upon tasting, rather delicious. From meringue-on-out, I was hooked. If the first dessert I ever made was what got my attention, it was the Baked Alaska that sealed the deal, made it official: baking and everything that came with it was fascinating, and I needed to learn more.

Seventeen years later, baking and I are still going strong, and the meringue-topped-pie hasn't yet lost its magic. Case in point: this Lemon Meringue Pie (herewith: L.M.P) a forkful of which is -- to use what is perhaps an over used term, but very accurate here -- the perfect bite. It's a heavenly mix of buttery, shortbread-like crust, tangy, intensely lemon-y custard and -- swoon! -- sweet, billowy meringue, golden brown and piled mile-high. When eaten all together it is a true thing of beauty, and when
 it emerged from the oven -- the meringue perhaps a bit more expertly swirled and sealed than 2002's Baked Alaska -- I felt the same sort of pride and satisfaction that I did all the way back when I was 13, with a little nostalgia mixed in. Some things never change, and that's a good thing, I think. 

Bonus: Make your own Spring! Spring here in Rome has been non-existent -- endless rain, November-like temperatures -- and this bright, sunny pie is about as close as any of us will probably get to sunshine all season!

A couple of notes: The filling in these pictures may seem a little runny; that's because I tried to photograph the pie before the sun went down (a constant struggle for me!) and so I had to cut it a bit sooner than I'd have liked. If you'd like to save time, a store-bought pie crust will work here (but the homemade one is a lot more buttery and flaky, so if you have time, it's worth giving a shot!) The pie crust recipe below makes two crusts; feel free to either halve the recipe or do as I do and freeze the second one/use it for another pie. As meringues can be notoriously weepy (i.e, they sort of get watery and flat after a while) the recipe here incorporates a water/cornstarch stabilizer that means the meringue holds up even in to the next day (hurray!) Finally, wait until the pie is completely cool before cutting, as the lemon filling will otherwise be too runny. To help firm up the base, after the pie has cooled down, you can place the pie on top of a cooling pack covered with a tea towel. 

Looking for other lemony recipes? I've got this Lemon, Almond, and Basil pesto, these Lemon Squares, this Perfect Lemon Tart, this Lemon Ricotta Cake, this Lemon Poppyseed Cake, pesto, this Limoncello Olive Oil Cake, and this Torta della Nonna.

From www.simplyrecipes.com. Serves 8.

Ingredients for the pie crust:
2 1/2 cups (325 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (224 grams) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Ingredients for the filling:
5 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons (56 grams) cornstarch
1 1/3 cup (277 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (356ml) water
1/2 cup (118ml) lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter

Ingredients for the meringue:
1 tablespoon (9 grams) cornstarch
1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (can use vinegar instead of cream of tartar, see method instructions)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (124 grams) white granulated sugar
5 large egg whites (room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Make the crust! If you're use a store-bought crust, skip this. If you're not, follow these instructions here, using the ingredients above, so that you end up with a crust looking like this:
2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil so that the foil extends over the edges (will make convenient handles). Fill two-thirds of the way with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and the pie weights. Poke the bottom of the crust in several places with the tines of a fork. This will help prevent the bottom from bubbling up. Put the crust back in the oven and bake for 15 minutes more, or until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. Make the lemon filling! Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.In a medium-sized saucepan, add 6 Tbsp cornstarch, 1 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 cups water, and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil on medium heat, whisking constantly. Let simmer for a minute or two until the mixture begins to thicken.

4. Once the cornstarch mixture has thickened up well remove from heat. Take a spoonful of the cornstarch mixture and whisk it into the beaten egg yolks to temper the yolks. Continue to whisk in spoonfuls of the cornstarch mixture until you've used about half of the cornstarch mixture. Then add the egg yolk mixture back to the pot with the cornstarch.

5. Return the mixture to a boil, on medium to medium high heat, stirring constantly. Cook 3 to 4 minutes. (The starch will keep the eggs from curdling.) Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter, and preheat oven to 325°F.
6. Prepare cornstarch mixture to help fortify the meringue: In a small saucepan, whisk together 1 Tbsp cornstarch and 1/3 cup of cold water until the cornstarch dissolves. Heat on medium heat and whisk until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat and set aside. Whisk together the sugar and cream of tartar: Whisk together 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar, set aside. (If you do not have cream of tartar, instead add a teaspoon of white vinegar to the egg whites with the vanilla in the next step.)

7. For the meringue: Place egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in the bowl of your mixer. Start beating the egg whites on low speed and gradually increase the speed to medium.Once the egg whites are frothy, slowly add in the sugar and cream of tartar, a spoonful at a time. Beat until the egg whites form soft peaks. Add the cornstarch water mixture (it should look like a gel) a spoonful at a time, as you continue to beat the egg whites. Increase the speed to high and continue to beat until the egg whites have formed stiff peaks.
8. Heat the lemon filling again, until it is bubbling hot. Scoop the steaming hot filling into the pre-baked pie shell, spreading it evenly. Working quickly, use a rubber spatula to spread the meringue mixture evenly around the edge of the pie. Make sure the mixture attaches to the crust with no gaps. The crust will help anchor the meringue and help keep it from shrinking. Fill in the center with more meringue mixture. Use the back of a spoon to create peaks all over the meringue.
9. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 325°F, until the meringue is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely to room temperature before slicing and eating. And now, a moment to admire a few photos of this marvelously meringue topped pie, if you don't mind:

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