So I’ve been asked a couple times recently, “what went wrong with my lemon meringue pie?” Lemon meringue is beautiful and Summery and a perfect balance of sweet and tart. The usual lemon meringue pie is written for home cooks and designed to be easy. They do sometimes flop. The heat from the oven for example, can break the emulsion of the lemon curd. The more you heat a thickened substance, the more it loses it’s thickening strength. To prevent this, I suggest cooking each layer on it’s own and it has some other benefits too.
Here is how I would recommend you adapt your recipe to follow these tips. But, for a great pie, you need to start with a great crust.
- First, I think there’s a huge difference between store bought and home made pie dough. Of course I might be biased. My Mom used to always make her own pie dough and my Dad claimed that was the only pie he’d eat, so I grew up with that belief.
- Always use the flour called for in the recipe. Different flours have different amounts of protein and using an all purpose flour when the recipe calls for pastry, will make your dough heavy and gummy, not tender and flaky.
- To make pie dough, sift all the dry ingredients. Not for measuring. You can measure before that. Although, the best way to measure your baking ingredients is to weigh them. You get a much more accurate measurement. Sifting just removes the lumps so you don’t end up with a dough with dry, floury bits.
- The fat you use, whether your recipe calls for lard or butter, should be cold. Cut it into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender or dice with a knife and use your fingers to blend the fat. Over mixing is your enemy here. You want a chunky mixture.
- Use cold water, or milk or buttermilk. Whatever liquid you use, make sure it’s just out of the fridge, cold. Mix it just enough to bring the dough together.
- Rest in the fridge for several hours or overnight.
- Try to use only as much dough as you will need for the pie to prevent over working.
- Roll the dough thin and press into the corners of the pie plate. (Where the bottom meets the sides).
- Leave the dough higher than the sides of the plate since it will shrink in the oven.
- Flute the edges and put in the fridge to help it hold it’s shape in the oven.
- Dock the bottom of the pie dough by stabbing it with a fork. This prevents steam from getting trapped and expanding upwards.
- Weight with beans on top of a piece of parchment paper to prevent the dough from puffing up. (Keep the beans and use again for every pie you need to weight- just don’t try and cook with them now.)
- Bake until done all over and the edges are golden brown. You can wrap the edges in tin foil if they brown too fast and the rest of the dough is not done.
- Cool on the counter.
- For the curd, always use real lemons. You can really taste the difference in store bought lemon juice and fresh squeezed. It might be cheaper, but I only used about 4 lemons and only the zest of one. So, you can use the zest for other things as well, but it adds tons of sweet, lemon flavour too.
- Follow the stove top directions to make the curd, but bring to a boil and boil for a full minute to cook the yolks so they are safe to eat. Stir in the butter once off the stove.
- Let the curd cool, just a touch before pouring it into the cooled pie shell. Don’t let it cool too much as it will start to set pretty quickly.
- Cool the pie in the fridge.
- For the meringue, make an italian meringue, where the sugar is cooked with about 20% it’s weight in water to 240-250 degrees F and is then poured over the egg whites at soft peak stage, while they are being whipped. Adding the hot sugar cooks the whites so they are safe to eat, but be careful. The sugar can cause really sever burns at this temperature.
- Top the chilled pie with the meringue, spreading with a spatula.
- Use a kitchen torch to brown the top of the meringue, moving the torch, constantly to prevent scorching.
- Keep in the fridge and make sure the whole pie is thoroughly chilled before cutting to keep the layers thick and holding their form.
- When cutting the pie, dip the knife in warm water and wipe it dry after each cut. This will keep the beautiful layers pure and prevent them from blending.
Enjoy your pie and send me your own tips.