Lemon meringue pie, with its tender-crisp crust, tangy-rich filling, and light-as-air meringue, is the perfect mid-winter baking project. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to make the classic pie — and we’ve made it even easier with our simple three-step process.
Lemon Meringue Pie 101
There are two essential components to any lemon meringue pie. The first is a thick filling, abundantly flavored with lemon juice and zest, that is both sweet and tangy and, once set, can be cut into sturdy slices. The second is the meringue, which should be light and fluffy with a crispy, caramelized top. The filling cooks primarily on the stove, meaning par-baking the crust is essential. When it’s brown and crisp, you’ll pour in the thickened filling, top with the meringue, then return to the oven for just a few minutes to toast the meringue.
Key Steps for Perfect Lemon Meringue Pie
- Par-bake the crust, then let it cool completely. Some pies work best when a warm filling is poured into a still-warm crust. But with lemon meringue, you want your crust to be fully baked and at room temperature before adding the filling.
- Cook the filling twice. The lemon meringue filling is thickened with cornstarch. But if you overwork the filling, the cornstarch’s thickening abilities are weakened, and you’ll be left with a runny mess. To prevent this, you’ll cook the filling in two intervals. First, the cornstarch is cooked with the sugar and lemon juice until thickened slightly, then the eggs are added and the whole filling is cooked again until very thick.
- Make a medium-stiff meringue. Taking your meringue to medium peaks — where the meringue stands upright when the whisk is lifted but the tip of the peak still curls — ensures the meringue will slice beautifully after it’s toasted and cooled.
- Cover the filling with the meringue before baking. To prevent overcooking the filling when the entire pie goes into the oven to toast the meringue, make sure you spread the meringue all the way to the crust so that it covers and seals the filling completely.
Cooling and Serving the Lemon Meringue Pie
Now for the hard part: Your lemon meringue pie must cool completely before you slice it, about six hours. The wait will be worth it, though, because the filling will continue to thicken and set while it cools. This pie is best eaten the day it is made, but leftovers can be stored, lightly covered at room temperature, for up to one day.
1 (9-inch) pie dough
For the filling:
4 large egg yolks, whites reserved for the meringue
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 medium lemons)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
For the meringue:
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1. Heat the oven to 400°F and parbake the pie crust. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Roll out the pie dough and transfer to a 9-inch standard pie pan. Press the dough into the bottom and along the sides of the pie plate, being careful not to puncture the dough. Crimp or press decorations into the edge of the crust and trim any excess dough away with a paring knife. Line the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dry beans, or granulated sugar for blind baking. Bake until golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Using the parchment paper as a sling, remove the pie weights and set the pie crust aside to cool while you prepare the filling.
2. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside. After separating the eggs (saving the whites for the meringue), gently whisk together the yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and flour in a medium saucepan. Place the sugar, cornstarch, and flour in a 4-quart saucepan and whisk to combine and break up any small clumps.
4. Add the water, lemon zest, and juice and cook to thicken. Add the water, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth. Place over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture turns from cloudy to slightly opaque, about 7 minutes from start to finish. Immediately remove from the heat.
5. Add the butter then temper the starch mixture with the egg yolks. Add the butter and stir just to combine; most of it will melt right away. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the sugar-lemon mixture into the egg yolks and whisk to combine. Continue adding the warm mixture in 1/2-cup increments until half of the mixture is added to the egg yolks. Add the egg yolk mixture back to the pot and whisk to combine.
6. Return the pan to the heat briefly. Return the pot to medium heat and return to a simmer, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon or spatula, until thick and glossy, about 2 minutes. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust and set aside while you make the meringue.
7. While the filling is hot, make the meringue. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or a large bowl and an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar. Beat until medium-stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes.
8. Toast the meringue. Spoon the meringue onto the hot filling — do your very best to make sure that all of the fillings is covered with the meringue, making direct contact with the crust. Place the pie in the oven and toast until the meringue is lightly golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Err on the side of lightly toasted to prevent overcooking the meringue and having a weepy pie.
9. Cool the pie completely before slicing! Cool the pie at room temperature for at least 6 hours before slicing.