Finally – a lemon meringue pie so easy even beginner bakers will love it
Ahhhh… lemon meringue pie, the food of angels. It’s hard to beat the taste sensation of silky sweet-tart lemon curd filling, crisp, flaky crust, and melt-in-your-mouth soft, fluffy meringue.
Lemon meringue pie is technically a custard pie and this means there are steps to take to ensure pie-baking success, including that often-scary step of tempering eggs. Which is enough to prevent many bakers from even attempting this sort of pie.
Fear not! With my super secret, super easy technique, I’ll show you how to slash prep time in half and turn out a picture-perfect pie in no time. Every time. The only hard part will be waiting for it to cool and set up before diving in.
Lemon meringue pie involves three actors: the crust, the filling and the meringue. Let’s break them down.
The components of a lemon meringue masterpiece
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The pie crust
The crust is what gives this pie it’s “mouth action.” Whether a flaky pastry or a crunchy cookie crumb, the crust provides a crisp foundation for the goodness to come.
You can either buy a frozen pie crust, or make your own. (I use Crisco’s classic pie crust recipe, which you can find here.) Either way, it needs to be partially baked before putting in the lemon filling. This is called baking the crust “blind.” Because the pie is only baked long enough to set and brown the meringue, the crust needs to be almost fully baked before getting to that step.
I always use a flaky pastry crust, and the way I blind bake it is to freeze the crust for 10 minutes after I’ve formed it (after first pricking it with a fork all over to allow steam to escape). Then I place foil into it and fill the crust halfway with dried beans or rice to be used as pie weights.
Bake the crust as directed for 7-9 minutes, remove the foil and beans, and continue baking for another 5 minutes. Use a potholder to press down any areas in the crust that try to bubble up. This happens if you haven’t pricked the crust sufficiently.
Let crust cool and start the filling. The crust should be room temperature by the time the filling is ready.
Note: If you prefer a cookie crust to pastry, check out my Cantaloupe Meringue Pie. That crust is to die for and would taste just as good with lemon meringue!
The lemon filling – my secret method for flawless perfection
My mother first introduced me to this method when I was in my 20’s, and frankly, I thought she was nuts. I was already pretty accomplished in the kitchen by then, and I knew that you had to temper eggs in a custard pie, and then stir in the butter at the end. Gee, didn’t everybody know that? (The ignorance of youth)
But she insisted I try her method, which looked too easy to be true. When we cut the first slice, I thought it would be a watery mess. But the heavens parted and the angels sang as she lifted a slice so beautiful, it looked like it came straight out of a cooking magazine. It was PERFECT, and I was hooked.
It’s so simple, really. Instead of going through all the steps to temper the eggs (which involves beating them separately, introducing a little of the hot filling to them while whisking madly to prevent curdling, then adding them all into the pan of filling, still whisking madly), you do just ONE thing with the filling ingredients. Are you ready? Here goes:
You dump everything into the pan, blend it all with a stick blender, and then start the cooking process. Cook on medium heat until thick and bubbly, and you’re done.
There. That’s it. Foolproof lemon meringue pie filling. Booyah.
Hard to believe, isn’t it? Instead of mixing, tempering in a separate bowl, and then stirring the butter in at the end of the cooking process, you just put it ALL into the saucepan, blend it up, then cook. It’s a little bit of pie-making magic. And it’s exactly how I make my magic lemon curd, too.
- When you’ve finished the filling, DO NOT pour it into the cooled pie crust right away as most recipes instruct. The filling needs to be hot hot hot when the meringue is put on, and pouring it into the crust at this stage would start the cooling process too soon. Make the meringue first and then pour the filling into the crust.
- Use fresh lemons in this recipe. Bottled lemon juice won’t yield the same bright, zingy taste. Juicing those fresh lemons couldn’t be easier with this nifty citrus juicer. I don’t make lemon desserts without it.
CRITICAL NOTE: It is possible to overcook fillings thickened with cornstarch, which will render filling that refuses to set up. ONLY cook this filling until thickened. It will turn translucent and will coat the back of a metal spoon when it’s fully cooked. This will only take a few minutes, depending on heat and pan size (the smaller the pan, the longer the filling will take to cook).
- If you don’t have a stick blender, use a regular blender. I used my countertop blender for years until it broke, and in desperation I tried the stick blender which worked just as well and made less of a mess. Here’s an excellent stick blender if you don’t already have one.
- Use the zest of a whole lemon. Don’t skip this step. It’s surprising how much of a difference the zest makes. And if you’re worried about icky chunks in your filling, don’t be. Blending the filling, using either a countertop blender or a stick blender, pulverizes the zest into oblivion. You’ll never know it’s there except for the zingy taste.
Here’s my favorite citrus zester. It yields the thinnest zest in seconds.
- Make sure no fat touches the egg whites. This means no stray bits of egg yolk, no grease on either the beaters or mixing bowl, and spotlessly clean hands. Because yes, even grease from your fingers can transfer itself to the egg whites, usually by touching the beaters. Egg whites are that sensitive.
I always wash my hands, the mixing bowl and the beaters with the hottest water I can stand, then dry them with a clean dish towel before separating the yolks from the whites. (By the way, eggs separate best when cold, but the whites beat up best when they’re at room temperature. Separate the eggs when you start the pie, and by the time you’re ready for the whites, they’ll be room temperature.
- Make sure the sugar is fully and completely dissolved in the meringue. To properly beat a meringue, start by beating them on low speed until they’re foamy. This breaks the egg whites up which allows them to attain a higher volume.
Slowly increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. To test, stop beating and pull the beaters out of the meringue. The peaks that form should fall over.
Start adding the sugar a Tbs at a time, beating a minute or two until completely dissolved.
When you’ve added all of the sugar, increase the speed to High and beat another minute or two until glossy and stiff peaks form. When the beaters are pulled from the meringue, the peaks will be stiff and not fall over.
Test a little of the meringue between your thumb and forefinger – you shouldn’t feel any grains of sugar. If you do, beat for a bit longer, then test again.
- Pour the hot filling from the saucepan into the cooled pie shell and immediately spread the meringue on top. The filling MUST still be hot, because this helps start the cooking process on the meringue. So leave the cooked filling in the saucepan until you make the meringue.
- Dollop spoonfuls of meringue around the edge and pile the remaining topping in the middle .Spread meringue to the edges of the pie so that it firmly touches the crust. It needs to be pressed to the crust, not just barely touching it, because meringue will shrink if it’s given half a chance. Especially when refrigerated. But if you press it to the crust firmly enough, it’ll stay put. It took me years to figure that one out.
- Press the spoon into the meringue and lift it several times to form attractive peaks. Or swirl the meringue instead. This is your chance to release your inner pie artist.
Don’t worry about crybaby meringue
Did you know meringue weeps? Yes, it does. This happens for a couple of reasons – either the sugar wasn’t completely dissolved, or you made it on a humid day. There are whole articles written about how to keep meringue from weeping, and recipes that accompany them. They involve a bunch of extra steps and ingredients. And they admonish the baker to not make lemon meringue pie on humid days. But if you live in a humid climate, how does that even make sense? Might as well never have this luscious, to-die-for pie at all.
Fiddlesticks to that.
So guess what – it’s OK if your meringue weeps a little bit. Those amber droplets are nothing more than “sugar condensation” on your meringue. Frankly, I’m more obsessed about keeping the meringue from shrinking, because a shrunken meringue is a sad sight indeed. But tiny sugar tears? Doesn’t bother me one little bit.
Don’t let them bother you either. Just make sure the sugar is completely dissolved, and your pie will be a showstopper.
Baking vs broiling the meringue
Some recipes instruct you to broil the meringue to brown it, but I prefer baking it. Baking it at 350 for 15 minutes ensures that the meringue is fully cooked through. Broiling only cooks the top portion. Plus it’s much easier to burn the meringue in the broiler.
Put the oven rack on a lower level and bake your pie for 12-15 minutes until the top is golden brown.
Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.
Now for the hard part – the waiting
As easy as this luscious lemon pie was to make, this is the hardest part: waiting for it to cool and set. It’ll take about an hour to cool to room temperature if placed on a cooling rack. Then give it another four hours to set up. You can leave it at room temperature for this step or refrigerate it, depending on if you like your lemon meringue pie cold or at room temperature. (I prefer mine at room temp.)
Yes, I know, it’s all gorgeous and begging to be cut into, but that wonderful filling needs time to firm up. So keep it away from any drafts and remove yourself from its presence. It’ll thank you by providing beautiful, picture-perfect slices when you can finally stand it no longer.
Easy Foolproof Lemon Meringue Pie
- 9" pie plate
- Hand mixer
- Immersion (stick) blender
- 1 9" baked pastry shell
- 1 1/3 C granulated sugar
- 6 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 C real lemon juice (bottled juice will affect the flavor – see Notes)
- Rind of one lemon (don't skip this ingredient – see Notes)
- 1 1/2 C boiling water
- 4 large eggs yolks see Notes
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/3 C granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, lemon rind, eggs and butter in large bowl or blender container. Blend.
- Continue blending while adding boiling water (this prevents scrambling the eggs).
- Cook over medium-low heat only until thick and barely bubbly. This will only take a few minutes. Do not overcook!
- Remove from heat and set aside. Make meringue.
- Beat egg whites with cream of tartar on low until foamy.
- Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.
- Slowly add sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, and beat for one minute.
- When all of the sugar is added, increase speed to highest and beat for one more minute. Test meringue between thumb and forefinger. If grit is present, beat for another minute. The meringue is ready when it feels smooth between the fingers.
- When meringue tests smooth (no grittiness), set aside and pour hot pie filling into cooled crust.
- Pile meringue on top of filling and spread to cover the pie. Make sure to seal the meringue to the crust.
- Bake on low oven rack for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Let cool to room temperature, then let sit for 4 hours, either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- Store leftovers in refrigerator. The meringue will deflate a little, but the taste will still be divine.
- This pie should always be made with fresh lemons. The taste is honestly that much better. The way around the slight inconvenience of juicing and “rinding” fresh lemons is to juice and “rind” many at one time and then freeze the leftover juice and rind. Then you can skip this step for future lemon desserts.
- The same goes for adding the lemon rind – don’t skip it. Fresh (or frozen) lemon rind adds so much to the flavor of the filling.
- Make sure there’s not a speck of grease or egg yolk in the egg whites. Even oil from your hands can deflate them. Wash everything in hot, soapy water before introducing the whites.
- Remember to cook the filling ONLY until thick and barely bubbly around the edges. Do not overcook, or the filling will fail to set up properly.
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