A good lemon meringue pie is the stuff dreams are made of. Just one look at this swoon-worthy dessert, with its tall, glossy peaks and tart lemon custard and you’ll want— no, need— an extra large slice. Maybe you should make two…
Lemon desserts bring a little sunshine into everyone’s day. Try tart Lemon Bundt Cake, perfect with berries and whipped cream, or the easiest ever lemon bars, if you need something in a hurry. For the rest of the crowd, make it chocolate, like a Slow Cooker Chocolate Lava Cake that you’ll want to dive into, head first.
This recipe shows you how to make a pie that rivals any diner in America, with a made-from-scratch crust and a perfect lemon filling that melts in your mouth.
You can swirl the meringue into tiny peaks or gentle moguls; it’s completely up to you. Just make sure to take a picture to send to all your friends; they’ll be so impressed!
All the credit goes to its inventor, Philadelphia cooking school instructor Elizabeth Coane Goodfellow, who first dreamt of putting the lemon custard and the meringue together in a pie shell.
How to make Lemon Meringue Pie:
This pie is the ultimate baking project, but it’s much more manageable if we break down the steps like this:
- Make the pie crust. This can be made days or weeks ahead, if you’re freezing pie dough.
- Blind bake the pie crust. You can do this the day before.
- Make the lemon custard filling.
- While the filling is cooling, make the meringue topping.
- Bake the whole pie, meringue and all.
Lemon Meringue Pie is at its finest when eaten the day you make it; in other words, it doesn’t keep very well. But what a day it will be!
Plan to make it on the day you need it. However, you can make the pie dough and bake the crust ahead of time. Here we go!
Making the pie crust:
You will need enough dough for one uncovered 9-inch pie. Use the one below, your own favorite recipe, or hop over to my how-to for Pie Crust, or follow the recipe below using butter, shortening, flour, salt, a tiny bit of sugar, and ice water.
- A food processor with a pulse button works great for this, but so does a pastry blender. In case you don’t have a pastry cutter, you can find them affordably here, or you can use two knives to cut the shortening into the flour.
- Once the dough is made, form it into a 4-inch wide disc, wrap it plastic, and chill it for at least an hour. Overnight is fine, too.
- Then roll the dough out on a floured work surface, into a 12-inch circle. Gently place it into the pie shell and crimp the edges, trimming any excess dough around the edges.
Blind baking the pie crust:
- In order to keep the crust of a custard-filled pie from getting soggy, it needs to be pre-baked, or blind baked. Baking a pie crust without the filling requires the dough to be weighted down to hold its shape without bubbling while it cooks.
- If you make a lot of pies, these reusable pie weights are wonderful. If you don’t have them, you can use dried beans, uncooked popcorn, or even rice to weigh a pie crust down.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the inside of the pie crust with foil or parchment paper, and fill it with dried beans. Then, bake the crust for 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie crust is light brown and “dry” looking. Take the pie crust out and let cool on a wire rack.
How to make Lemon Pie filling:
- Cook the water, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly. As soon as the mixture turns translucent, add the egg yolks two at a time and continue to whisk.
- Then add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and butter. Whisk continuously. As soon as the mixture begins to simmer, take it off of the heat.
- Finally, carefully pour the lemon custard into the baked and cooled pie crust. Then set the pie aside to cool while you make the filling.
Making the meringue topping:
At last! The most dynamic part of this dessert. Don’t rush this step–just take your time.
- Cook the sugar and water together in a saucepan until syrupy, about 3 to 4 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, it should read 235 degrees when it’s ready. Take the syrup off of the heat and cover to keep it warm.
- Using an electric mixer (standing or handheld) with the whisk attachment, beat together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on medium-low speed until foamy–only about one minute.
- Next, increase the mixer speed to medium-high speed and beat for 1 to 3 minutes until soft peaks form and the whites are shiny. Don’t rush this step!
- Turn the mixer down and slowly– gradually–drizzle in the warm sugar syrup directly into the middle of the mixing bowl. Then pour in the vanilla and turn the speed back up. Beat until the meringue is very smooth, very glossy, and beautifully thick. This should take 3 to 6 minutes.
- While the lemon pie filling is still warm, spoon or pipe the topping onto the top of the pie, from edge to edge. Swoop, swirl, and have fun.
Baking Lemon Meringue Pie:
Once the topping is looking picture perfect, pop the pie into a 400 degree oven for about 6 minutes, until the top of the meringue is light brown.
Tips for getting it right:
What are the best lemons for Lemon Meringue Pie? For lemons, Meyer lemons or regular supermarket lemons will do just fine. Whatever variety of fruit you use, wash the fruit thoroughly before zesting.
Use older eggs. That’s right! Older eggs make better meringue. And room temperature egg whites beat faster and higher.
Cream of tartar substitute. For one pie, ½ teaspoon of white wine vinegar or 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice in lieu of cream of tartar should do the trick. Cream of tartar makes the most stabile meringue.
Make it the day you need it. You can make the dough and crust ahead, but that’s about it. Lemon Meringue Pie doesn’t freeze, and any leftovers need to be stored in the refrigerator, where the meringue will soften and separate from the crust.
Don’t leave it out. Because bacteria grows rapidly at room temperature, lemon meringue pie should be discarded if left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. Freshly baked lemon meringue pie will keep for about 2 to 3 days if refrigerated and covered loosely with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
What can you do with extra egg whites? You could make an egg white omelet or a frittata, but you don’t have to use them up right away. In fact, whites can be frozen for several months. Use a plastic ice cube tray if you want to store them in individual, easy-to-measure portions.
Or, make Schaum Tortes, a regional dessert favored by Milwaukee-based German immigrants.
How do you prevent the filling in a Lemon Meringue Pie from getting runny? If you over boil the lemon filling, the starch will break down and the whole mixture gets soupy. Once the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon, so that you can draw a line through it with your finger, take it off the heat and let it cool. If you take it too far it will split and give off liquid.
Why does Lemon Meringue Pie weep? First, if at all possible, make meringue pie on a very dry, low-humidity day.
Also, don’t over bake your meringue topping! Over baking causes the egg whites in the meringue to shrink and squeeze out small droplets of moisture. Always make sure to check on your pie at the minimum baking time.
How do you keep the meringue from shrinking? Be sure to prepare the meringue before preparing the pie filling so it’s ready to spread while the filling is still warm. The heat from the filling will seal the meringue onto the surface and make it much less likely to leak or shrink.
Also, make sure to spread the meringue completely to the edge of the pie so it touches the crust.
How do you keep meringue from cracking? To avoid cracks in your baked meringue topping, be sure that your oven is fully preheated– but not too hot–before baking the meringue.
Lemon Meringue Pie
For the pie crust:
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
- 4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
For the lemon filling:
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon Salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest finely grated
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice from 3 lemons
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 2 pieces
For the meringue:
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 ½ ounces)
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 large egg whites at room temperature (they whip faster)
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the pie crust:
- In a food processor (or see notes for the Hand-Mixing pie dough method), combine flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse until combined.
- Scatter shortening pieces over the top and process until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 seconds. Transfer to medium bowl.
- Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Using a stiff rubber spatula, stir and press dough together until it sticks together. Add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary until dough comes together.
- Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling out dough, let soften at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim, fold, and crimp the edge of the dough. Wrap the dough-lined plate and place in the freezer until dough is fully chilled and firm, about 30 minutes.
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Line the chilled pie shell with a double-layer of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights.
- Bake until the pie dough is lightly browned and dry, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake until the crust is a deep golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.
To make the filling:
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, bring water, sugar, cornstarch, and salt to a simmer. When the mixture starts to turn translucent, whisk in egg yolks, 2 at a time.
- Whisk in lemon zest, lemon juice, and butter. Return to simmer and immediately remove pan from heat.
- Pour filling into baked and cooled pie crust. Set aside to cool slightly while you make the meringue.
To make the meringue:
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees.
- Make sure the egg whites don't have even a trace of yolk in the whites as the fat in the yolk can prevent the whites from developing the volume you want.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring sugar and water to boil and cook until mixture is slightly thickened and syrupy, about 3 to 4 minutes (235 degrees on a candy thermometer). Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
- In a standing mixer fit with the whisk, or in a large (very clean) bowl with an electric mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt together on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute.
- Increase mixer speed to medium-high and whip until whites are shiny and soft peaks form, about 1 to 3 minutes.
- Reduce mixer speed to medium and slowly drizzle warm syrup (avoid the whisk attachment and sides of bowl). Add vanilla, increase speed to medium-high, and whip until mixture has cooled slightly and is very thick and shiny, about 3 to 6 minutes.
- Dollop the meringue evenly over the top of the warm lemon filling and spread, making sure it adheres to the crust. Use the back of a spoon to create attractive swirls and peaks.
- Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool until filling has set, about 2 hours. The pie can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 1 day.
- To serve, cut into wedges using a thin, sharp knife dipped into hot water between cuts. Or, hold at room temperature for up to 4 hours. The pie is best eaten the day it is baked, but it can be stored at room temperature for 1 day.