The lemon meringue pie experiments are coming along well, and I’ve learned a few tricks along the way. There are details most recipes don’t mention and that I wouldn’t have known had it not been for a reader named Cheryl who sent me this article with lemon meringue pie making tips from Johnson and Wales.
Skipping everything about the crust (because that’s a whole different subject) some of the key things I’ve learned are as follows:
1. Add the lemon juice last because the acid keeps the filling from thickening properly and adding acid too early helps “cook” the egg yolks which should not be over-cooked. Over-cooked eggs are what caused the first pie filling I made to separate. Adding the lemon juice too early didn’t help either.
2. It’s best not to use a double-boiler because the mixture doesn’t get enough heat to form a gel (so says the article, though a lot of recipes call for a double boiler). I’m eliminating recipes that call for double boilers since they’re kind of a pain anyway. That being said, Cheryl’s used a double-boiler for 40 years and her pies are great.
3. Always put the meringue on the filling while it’s piping hot. The hot filling helps cook the meringue from the bottom up and helps keep it from weeping.
Finally, meringue can be made ahead of time so long as you have the filling ingredients ready to go. I tried a few different meringues, including one that was very low in sugar and another that had a lot of crazy steps including making a gel, grinding up sugar and cornstarch before adding. The best meringue was the one used on the Betty Crocker Pie — 3 eggs, 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, 6 tablespoons sugar and a little vanilla. Simple and good.
Now the challenge is to find the best filling. Above is a chart showing yolk/juice/water/thickener amounts. Betty Crocker’s is first, with the most sugar and Cheryl’s recipe uses the least. I’m making Cheryl’s again today just to test it again, but I had great success with the Betty Crocker recipe. It had a lot of sugar, but there was enough lemon and butter to balance it out so it wasn’t terribly sweet. I did add 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Here’s a link to a tried and true lemon meringue pie.
Betty Crocker’s Lemon Meringue Pie
I think it’s interesting what you said about the acidity of the lemon causing the eggs to overcook. I have made the filling for the Grandma’s Allrecipes twice, which requires that you put in the lemon juice before the egg yolks. I never did have problems with the eggs. I just tempered them with some of the hot filling and then put it into the saucepan. It thickened up nicely and tasted perfect. I think the key to not overcooking the eggs is just by turning off the heat after you put the egg yolks into the saucepan. It should come out just fine.
I’ve made the Ann Lander’s Best Lemon Meringue Pie. It was okay but we thought the filling was too sweet, and my family didn’t like the meringue with the cooked cornstarch mixture. They actually prefer French meringue beads and all! Even so….I think I’m trying some version of the cooked cornstarch meringue again, because my real meringue lover won’t be here.
Thanks for the Ann Landers pie tip. I’d never heard of it until you mentioned it. I just looked at it and saw that it was posted by Kittencal. That woman is amazing. All her recipes are good. The filling looks good. It’s got more water than Betty Crocker, less sugar, and the odd addition of vinegar. VERY interesting. I’ll put it on the list.
They all sound so good! Have you checked out Ann Landers Best Lemon Meringue Pie? I’ve never made it, but I remember reading about it, and it gets raves on recipezaar.
I love the recipe on the back of the corn starch box. Delicious!!!
I too have thought that meringues are just cruel ways of hiding the crust and fillings of pies!
Good work, Anna! I so enjoy reading the research and the process. I am a bit odd as I love the lemon but don’t care for meringue!. But it’s a favorite of one of my sister’s and I can always leave my meringue for her!
I use the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. As Sue mentions, they have a step in the meringue where you cook the cornstarch with water. I don’t find that it makes a big difference, so I skip that step. The filling in their recipe calls for 6 (!) yolks. It is always a big hit with those I serve it to; in fact, it is my most requested pie.
The CI method has something to do with cooking together water and cornstarch, and adding it to egg whites and vanilla that are beaten until frothy, and then adding sugar and cream of tartar and beat until stiff, apply to hot pie filling and bake at 325 for 20 min.
I’m truly scarred from other attempts at meringue pies and haven’t tried their recipe although I’ve tried something similar and my family likes ‘french’ meringue even if it beads.
After reading the article by the Johnson and Wales professor, and reading about your attempts I’m ready to try again, although I’m not sure which recipe yet.
The Johnson and Wales article had a lot of good information.
Meredith, I did see that one. It’s probably excellent. My issue with it at the time was that it had a lot of butter and didn’t seem to be a “basic” recipe. It started with a lemon curd which as 1 cup sugar and 10 tablespoons butter. So the pie is probably good, but richer than what I want right now. My goal is to really master a basic pie. Still, the Every Day Food pie is gorgeous and probably a winner.
Sue, you should go for it! The Betty Crocker recipe is a winner and a good starting point, but I have yet to read CI’s method. Alton’s is similar to Betty Crocker’s, but with more egg. I don’t like the flavor of yolks so much, so I might skip Alton’s. The Allrecipes.com “Grandma’s” pie will probably be next after Cheryl’s, which I’m making again and will report on soon.
But you should definitely try one.
Have you seen the lemon meringue pie in the latest issue of Everyday Food. Calls for making a lemon curd. I thought of you and your project yesterday when the magazine arrived in the mail!
You are positively amazing!!! I mean that in the most positive supportive way. I’m in awe!!!!
Unless things snowball out of control I WILL make a lemon meringue pie this weekend. I don’t know who I’ll feed it to. Maybe the neighbors are due for more treats? I really want to learn to make a good one so I’ll stay posted to Cookie Madness.
Since you titled this Lemon Meringue Pie 1, I have this feeling another one is coming. BTW, those little beads always appear on my meringue, and usually the first day.