Lemon Meringue Pie

I have a few cookbooks that are falling apart from extensive use. Their spines are partially broken and some have pages falling out or small pieces of loose leaf paper or recipe cards jammed into them. My very favorite and most-used cookbooks have margins filled with my hurried handwriting – notes about when we made it, how it turned out, any modifications or substitutions I made that time. That’s how my American Classics cookbook is looking these days. I received it back in 2002 for my “review” as a subscriber of Cooks’ Illustrated magazine. And if I didn’t like the book, I could send it back. Or if I did, I could send my check and it would be mine. I sent the check. Once I started using it, it became an indispensable part of my kitchen. The cover recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie has always been one that I passed over in favor of other recipes. It’s not that I don’t like lemon meringue pie. Actually, I really love it. A lot. I just never cared about making it at home. I think it goes back to my memory of my grandmother making lemon meringue pie when I was a little girl. The meringue would inevitably weep and was often spongy. I loved the filling, but couldn’t care less about the crust or the meringue on top.

My how things have changed! Meringue is one of my favorite things. So here we come to finally trying out this recipe. Would it hold up to the promises included in the recipe’s preface. America’s Test Kitchen said they made 28 different recipes for lemon meringue pie until they came up with their version. Their method for making the meringue had me intrigued. Read my notes below to see what I thought of this recipe.
america's test kitchen lemon meringue pie


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Lemon Meringue Pie

Yield: 8 slices

Prep Time: 30 min60 min1 hour 30 minIngredients:

One pre-baked pie crust
Lemon Filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt (table)
1 1/2 cups water (cold)
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon (zest from 1 lemon)
1/2 cup lemon (juice from 2 to 3 lemons)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Meringue Topping:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Directions:
1. For the filling: Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and water in a large, nonreactive saucepan. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally at beginning of the process and more frequently as mixture begins to thicken. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, whisk in egg yolks, two at a time. Whisk in zest, then lemon juice, and finally butter. Bring mixture to a good simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, place plastic wrap directly on surface of filling to keep hot and prevent skin from forming.
2. For the meringue: Mix cornstarch with water in small saucepan; bring to simmer, whisking occasionally at beginning and more frequently as mixture thickens. When mixture start to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat. Let cool while beating egg whites.
3. Heave oven to 325 degrees. Mix cream of tartar and sugar together. Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Bea in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sugar is incorporated and mixture forms soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks. Remove plastic from lemon filling and return to very low heat during last minute or so of beating meringue (to ensure filling is hot).
4. To finish the pie: Pour hot filing into pre-baked pie shell. Using a rubber spatula, immediately distribute meringue evenly around edge and then center of pie to keep it from sinking into filling. Make sure meringue attaches to pie crust to prevent shrinking. Use back of spoon to create peaks all over meringue. Bake pie until meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve that day.

Tips:

-I used a gluten-free pie crust and did not coat it in graham crackers.
-I would add the lemon juice and egg yolks to the cornstarch and sugar THEN cook the filling, not add the egg yolks to the simmering cornstarch mixture.
-For the meringue, I would nix the cooked cornstarch/water mixture and just add the cornstarch in with the sugar and cream of tartar. I do this when I make pavlova, so I'm wondering if it would work here too.
-Don't cut until totally cooled.

The results:

Well. The good news or the bad news first? I did like the pie. Was it perfect? No, not really.

I didn’t think this was the be all, end all lemon meringue pie recipe. Some of the recipe directions left me scratching my head. When you cook the cornstarch, sugar, and water together for the filling, it says to add the egg yolks to the simmering mixture. I was worried about possible curdling, but followed the directions as written. Sure enough, the first few drops of egg yolk curdled, despite my furious whisking. I hurried and added the lemon juice, then the egg yolks and the rest of the eggs were fine. I had to strain out the cooked bits. Not a problem, but a still a (minor) hassle.

The meringue topping was fine until I added the precooked cornstarch/water mixture. It never mixed in all the way. There were still tiny gelatinous bits that never incorporated. After it was baked, you couldn’t see them, but you could totally taste them. Again, not the end of the world, but I wasn’t impressed. The top browned nicely. It looked lovely. But then it was time to cut into the pie…

The recipe said it could be served warm or at room temperature. I chose somewhere in between. The filling was set up, but parts of it kind of fell out in big chunks from the side. It took several slices before I could get one that looked decent. I also noticed the meringue had a funny texture and seemed curdled. Could I have over-baked it? Maybe. I’m pretty good with meringues – I make them in some form several times a month – and I’m sure it wasn’t from over-mixing. It also threatened to slip off the filling.

I refrigerated the pie overnight and tried to cut slices again. The filling was set up and the slices were easier to cut, but the meringue quality was affected. So I still think it’s better to eat it the same day it’s made.

That being said, the pie itself is delicious. The filling is very lemony and the meringue was edible. I’m going to chalk this up to “you win some, you lose some” and try making it again. I’ve never had an America’s Test Kitchen fail me, so I’m assuming it was me this time. :)

Did this recipe deserve the cover spotlight?

I’m going to say no, but it isn’t because the pie bordered on failure. I have made so many recipes from this cookbook and there are more life-changing recipes that could have easily graced the cover. Like the Devil’s Food Cake or New York Cheesecake, for example.

Lindsey Johnson writes the food blog, Cafe Johnsonia, and she works as a freelance recipe developer and photographer. She is the mother to three beautiful, fun children and resides in Utah. She became gluten-free in 2010 and has enjoyed the learning process that comes along with gluten-free baking and cooking. When she's not in the kitchen or behind the camera, she enjoys gardening, reading, being outside, and spending time with her husband and children.

3 Responses to “Lemon Meringue Pie”

  1. 1

    Faith Gorsky — November 13, 2013 @ 5:10 am

    What a great review – I really appreciate how thorough you were! I’ve been looking for the perfect lemon meringue pie recipe myself, so I might give this a try with the mods you suggested!

  2. 2

    Bella — November 17, 2013 @ 6:37 am

    Interesting results! It sure looks tasty, so I am sorry to hear that it wasn’t as outstanding as you had hoped. The cookbook itself sounds amazing, so I think I will get a copy for myself! :)

  3. 3

    Renee @ Awesome on $20 — November 17, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

    I’ve never tried making my own lemon meringue pie, but I definitely trust America’s Test Kitchens. Yours looks beautiful.

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