The best lemon meringue pie

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A true British classic, this recipe is dedicated to my late gran who used to make THE BEST lemon meringue pie I have ever had: any other lemon meringue pie that I have tried since has not quite been as good.

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More than any other dish, whenever I eat this I am transported right back to being a boy again and enjoying gran’s lemon meringue pie. I was delighted to have the fabulous Sally from Bewitching Kitchen joining me here to eat one: having known each other for years through baking blogging, to meet for real was a real joy.

My gran, Joan, was an amazing cook and a formidable presence both in and out of the kitchen. I learned so much from her when I was a boy and would scribble down notes whenever I watched her cook: the challenge as an adult is deciphering my scrawls!

I’ve not given the recipe for the pastry, but the recipe for shortcrust pastry and tips for baking blind are here. However, if you don’t want to make the pastry, you can buy ready-baked all-butter pastry cases which taste great.

It’s all in the filling

Granted, there should be a generous depth of meringue on top, but it’s the filling that’s the star of a lemon meringue pie: for me it has to be lip-puckeringly sharp with a real bitter kick to balance the sweet lusciousness of the meringue.

Gran’s trick was to use whole lemons – pith, peel and all

Gran would blitz some of the whole lemons to a pulp which she then sieved to press out as much of the bitter lemony flavour for the base of the filling. The result is an intensely lemony curd, with layers of sharp, sour and bitter: as it should be to my mind!

Using only the lemon juice and zest, as most recipes do, does not give the intensity the filling should have in my opinion.

In the interests of not wasting anything, I add the blitzed lemon pulp that is left in the sieve to a jug of water and keep it in the fridge for wonderfully refreshing lemony water.

Bake the meringue gently

This is also where my gran and I differ from many lemon meringue pie recipes: cooking at a lower temperature for a longer time.

By cooking the meringue at a lower temperature, you get a more marshmallow-like interior, with a very crisp exterior. If you blast the pies in a very hot oven you risk burning some of the meringue peaks: caramelised is great, burnt is not!

Recipe: the best lemon meringue pie

The recipe will make either one large pie (8-9”) or, as I did here,  several smaller ones. Any curd that is left can be sorted in an airtight jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks. 

Filling:
  • 2 level tablespoons cornflour
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 3 large unwaxed lemons
  • 150ml water
  • 100g unsalted butter, in pieces
  • 3 large egg yolks 
Meringue:
  • 3 egg whites
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons cornflour
Additional:
  • 8” pastry case (or smaller pastry cases) baked blind. Recipe: here

(1) Roughly chop 2 of the lemons and place these, along with the water, into a food processor. Blitz to a pulp and then pass through a sieve into a medium pan, pushing to extract as much of the lemon flavour as you can.

NB: if you prefer you can grate the zest of the lemons first and add this to the filling once you have made.

(2) Add the juice and the finely grated zest of the remaining lemon, along with the sugar and the cornflour to the pan and give it a whisk together to break up any lumps of cornflour and turn the heat on to medium: a small non-electrical hand whisk is ideal but a wooden spoon works fine. Bring to the boil, whisking from time to time, and let it simmer gently for about a minute: you will have a thick, translucent sauce at this point.

(3) Remove from the heat and add the butter, a bit at a time, whisking well to incorporate. Finally whisk in the egg yolks. Return to a medium-low heat, stirring all the time, and let it bubble gently for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside until needed.

NB: at this point you have a deliciously sharp lemon curd that could be used for all manner of other things.

(4) Make the meringue by whisking the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl with an electric whisk until soft peaks form. Add the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, whisking until incorporated (about 10 seconds or so each time). Once most of the sugar has been incorporated, whisk in the cornflour and finish by whisking in the rest of the sugar. Whisk for about a minute more until you have a thick, glossy meringue that holds its shape easily.

NB: if you see the whisk marks in the meringue that remain clearly without vanishing, the meringue is ready.

(5) Spoon the filling into the baked pastry cases, coming just below the rim, and smooth off. Spoon or pipe the meringue on top, covering the filling fully – otherwise it will bubble up and over the cases when it bakes: not the end of the world by any means, but you want to keep as much as that precious filling in there!

(6) Bake 160C for 20 minutes for smaller pies or 30-35 minutes for larger pies – or until the meringue is crisp on top and tinged a light brown.

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Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking & eating.

7 thoughts on “The best lemon meringue pie”

  1. That is a fab idea to pulp while lemons, I’ll definitely be trying that. My tip is to roll out your pastry on finely crushed digestive biscuits, looks a bit strange but gives the cooked pastry a lovely crunch without being tough.

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  2. I like to use whole lemons in the food processor as starting point for marinades – it makes it for a very sharp and flavorful component, so I am really looking forward to trying your recipe for the tartlets

    of course, I should let your readers know that “I” was lucky enough to have one a couple of weeks ago, in your company, which only made it even better!

    😉

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      1. ha ha ha.. you, my friend, you are THE best baker I know! there, I said it! and I am still dreaming about the taste of that lemony curd which I intend to try (of course, I get a bit worried about failing miserably, but…. what’s life if we don’t take risks? wink, wink)

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