So, my sister requested that this week’s baking project be Lemon Meringue Pie. Even more fun, she requested personal sized pies. The pies were for a mutual friend of ours, who just celebrated her birthday and loves Lemon Meringue Pie. Cheers Mia.
I had never made a <Citrus> Meringue Pie, before. So, I needed to do a little bit of research. Going into this, I thought that the filling was Lemon Curd, but that’s not the case. It turns out that there are three types of Citrus fillings, Curd, Filling, and Pie Filling. The difference appears to be the type of thickener and the use. Lemon Curd is like a very tart custard, which uses only egg yolks as a thickener. I have used Curd as a topping on shortbread cookies (YUM!). A lemon filling is a little less tart than a curd and uses egg yolks and corn starch as a thickener. The lemon filling would be used for things like filled donuts. The lemon pie filling is a thicker version (more cornstarch) of the lemon filling used for pies that are baked.
Note: This write up is based on using pie pans 5 inches across and about an inch deep. The recipe makes 5 small pies.
To start with, I used a graham cracker crust. A normal recipe calls for a standard pie crust, but since I was doing miniature pies, I felt that graham cracker crust was more appropriate. I typically like to buy the graham cracker crumbs (typically in the baking aisle), but the store was out, and I ended up buying whole graham crackers. Put a package of crackers in the food processor and run it on high until you end up with small crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and stir in 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. Then mix in 6 tablespoons of melted butter. I use a spatula in a slicing motion, while rotating the bowl. The goal is to make sure the butter is evenly distributed through the crumbs. At the end, you should be able to press crumbs against the side of the bowl with the spatula and the crumbs hold their form (second picture below). If the mixture won’t hold its form, then mix in another 1 – 2 tablespoons of melted butter, and test again.
When the graham cracker crumb mixture is to your satisfaction, it’s time to make the crusts. I use a baking spray on the pans because I hate when the crust sticks to the pan after baking. Spoon 3 – 4 heaping tablespoons of the mixture into the pie pan. Using your thumb, press the mixture to the side of the pan, making a cracker crumb wall about ¼ – 1/8 of an inch thick. When you have an even shell around the side, press the remainder to the bottom of the pan. The interior of the pan should be completely coated. Repeat for each of the pans.
Lemon Pie Filling sounds a little daunting, but it is surprisingly easy. There are a couple of tricks to make it work. I found that three average sized lemons produced the correct amount of Zest (2 Tablespoons) and Juice (1/2 Cup). Before you start zest and juice the lemons. I have a Wilton Microplane, which does an amazing job of zesting lemons. I have a Kitchenaid hand juicer, which requires a strong grip, but does a decent job of creating pulp free juice. The pictures show both devices.
Separate 4 eggs into two different bowls. One bowl for Egg Yolks, and another for Egg Whites. Make sure that you do not get any yolk in the whites. When I separate eggs, I like to take a knife and tap/crack the shell around the middle. This allows you to split the shell in half. Holding the larger side down and over the bowl of whites, split the halves. The yolk should be in the bottom half. Slowly tilt the bottom half and rotate. The egg white should eventually separate from the yolk. If you need to, transfer the yolk to the other half of the egg, tilt and rotate. Once you are satisfied the yolk and whites are separate, dump the yolk into a separate bowl.
In a medium sized saucepan, stir together 1 ½ cup of granulated sugar and 1/3 cup of cornstarch. Make sure that the sugar and starch are mixed thoroughly. Take 1 ½ cups of cold tap water, and add the water to the sugar and starch about ¼ cup at a time. After adding ¼ cup of water, stir the water in completely. Repeat this until all water is added. It is very important to add the water slowly and stir it in, because if you don’t the cornstarch may clump and produce a less than desirable result. Never add cornstarch to water, always add water to cornstarch. If you have to add more cornstarch, be sure to mix water into cornstarch in another bowl first.
After the sugar and cornstarch mixture looks like a milky liquid, stir in the 1 – 2 tablespoons of lemon zest, ½ cup of lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Next whisk in the 4 egg yolks, until the mixture is completely combined. Turn the burner on a medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of cubed butter. Using a whisk, stir the mixture frequently until the butter is melted, then constantly after the butter is melted. You DO NOT want this mixture to cook too quickly or on too high of heat, because the texture will not be correct. The mixture should start bubbling after 10 – 15 minutes. Once the mixture starts bubbling, you should notice it thickening, almost like pudding. Let simmer for about 1 minute while whisking, then remove from heat. At this point, I transferred the mixture to a large measuring cup for easier pouring into the pie shells. Pour the lemon mixture evenly into each of the shells.
Now, for the meringue. Take the egg whites and pour them into a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, turn on the machine at a medium high setting. Once the eggs start to get frothy, stop the machine and add ¼ tablespoon of Cream of Tartar. Turn the machine back on slow, until the cream of tartar is mixed in, then turn the machine on medium high. The egg whites will start to get volume and hold a little shape. Stop the machine and add ½ cup of powdered sugar to the middle of the egg white mixture. Start the machine slowly until the sugar is mixed in, and then turn the setting up to almost he highest setting. When the sugar is completely mixed in, add ½ teaspoon of vanilla. The whites will start to hold its shape, you will see some peaks, and it will appear glossy. When the mixture looks like the picture, stop mixing. It is possible to over beat the whites.
Preheat the over to 325. Take the whites and spoon the whites equally into the middle of each pie shell. I found that using the back of a spoon, pull the whites from the middle to the edge of the pie tin. You want the white to be touching the edge of the pie tin, all the way around. It’s ok if you have some graham cracker crumbs in your egg whites. Once you are happy with the distribution of the meringue, create some peaks by using the back of the spoon and flipping upward. The peaks actually add character to the baked pies.
Bake at 325 for about 12 – 15 minutes. The meringue on top of the pies should start to brown. When you are satisfied with how the meringue is browned, remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Viola, you have a Lemon Meringue Pie! Enjoy.
Graham Cracker Crust
1 Package of Graham Crackers
1/3 Cup of Granulated Sugar
6 Tablespoons of Melted Butter
Lemon Pie Filling
3 Regular Sized Lemons (Zested and Juiced)
1 ½ Cups of Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup of Corn Starch
1 ½ Cups of Water
1 – 2 Tablespoons of Lemon Zest
¼ Teaspoon of Salt
½ Cup of Lemon Juice
4 Egg Yolks from Large Eggs
3 Tablespoons of Butter
4 Egg Whites
¼ Teaspoon of Cream of Tartar
½ Cup of Powdered Sugar
½ Teaspoon of Vanilla