I know this is supposed to be a blog about (primarily) meat-related food, but this is my favourite thing to eat in pretty much the world. Sour, sweet, soft and crispy. This is my perfect lemon meringue pie recipe, even though I’m sure it’d piss off many bakers out there. I don’t care. The lemon curd isn’t ‘real’ and I use a French meringue instead of Italian or Swiss, but whatever. I don’t care.
When you’re talking about pie, what everyone is looking for is a crispy, short texture, and absolutely no soggy bottom. Both of these points are easily solved, however. To reach the optimum texture, just handle the pastry as little as possible; as soon as the mixture forms a ball, leave it alone! As for the soggy bottom; just remember to blind bake the case first until it’s nice and golden all over. Now it’s dried out, you’ve got more time to play with when you pour your liquidy filling inside. Just be fast!
The ‘lemony’ bit of a lemon meringue pie is generally made of lemon curd, a delicious mix of lemons, egg and sugar, and is kind of the lemon version of jam. Lemon curd, however, is a bit of a pain to make when you’re after a pie, and I can’t be bothered with that. Instead, go for the cheat’s version – lemon juice and condensed milk (with a bit of egg yolk for good measure). You get the essential sweet and sour zing of the curd, and it sets well in the oven; perfect!
If we carry on the comparison between this version and the ‘classic’ lemon meringue pie, then most of the meringue you’ll see in restaurants and bakeries will be Italian. Italian meringue used sugar syrup instead of ‘raw’ sugar, which means the egg is cooked during the whisking process. French meringue, however, is cooked in the oven and is best known as the dry kind you often see in shop windows, or in a Pavlova.
By cooking the lemon meringue pie for a relatively short time, you’re not actually going to have fully cooked the egg whites into what you’d normally recognise as a French meringue. Instead, they retain their springy texture, somewhat more like the Italian version. The sugar in the egg whites does colour, however, so you still get the lightly toasted flavour on the top of each bite, which is really nice.
Notes on Cooking
As I’ve said before in the Bakewell tart recipe; if you want wonderful, short, shortcrust pastry, you really need to handle it as little as possible. As soon as the dough forms into a ball, wrap it and rest it in the fridge. When it comes to rolling, just do it once then line the tart tin, if it breaks just take the bits and press it together in the case with a little milk around the edges to seal, no one’s going to notice anyway. Doing this avoids getting a tough and chewy pastry, which you really don’t want. A lot of restaurants and bakeries get around this problem by just filling the case with bits and then using a press to squeeze the pastry into shape, although that’s beyond most home cooks.
Lemon meringue pie is the greatest dessert on the planet, bar none. A crispy shell, sweet and sour filling and then a toasted meringue top. What more could you possibly want?
- 250 g plain flour
- 50 g icing sugar
- 125 g unsalted butter cold and cut into small cubes
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 tbsp milk if needed
- 385 g condensed milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 lemons zested and juiced
- 3 egg whites
- 100 g caster sugar
Mix the flour and icing sugar together well to combine.
Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your hands until you reach the mix looks like breadcrumbs.
Add the egg to the breadcrumbs with your hands until the dough begins to come together. If the mixture is too dry, begin to add some milk very slowly until it all combines. As soon as it forms a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Be careful to handle the pastry as little as possible from this point on. Otherwise, you'll get a tough and chewy product.
Remove from the fridge and roll out the pastry between two sheets of baking paper until about 3 - 4 mm thick. Line an 8-inch tart case with the pasty. It will be extremely crumbly and that’s fine and good. If necessary piece together the pasty in the tin, pressing the pieces together. Return to the fridge for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180oC.
Remove the pastry case from the fridge and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Put a sheet of baking paper in the case and fill with baking beans or rice. If you don’t have the ceramic version made for baking, the real thing will do fine. Just save your rice or beans in a container to be re-used again in your future baking endeavours.
Blind bake the pastry case in the oven for 20 minutes, before removing the baking paper and beans/rice and returning to the oven for 15 more minutes. Set aside to cool.
Mix the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon juice and lemon zest together well to combine. Set aside.
Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until they form stiff peaks (you should be able to turn the bowl over without the egg falling out).
Slowly add the sugar in stages, constantly whisking and waiting for the sugar to dissolve before adding the next lot.
Preheat the oven to 160oC.
Fill the blind baked pastry case with the lemon filling and then top with the meringue, spreading to the sides to cover all of the lemon.
Bake in the oven for around 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown all over.
Allow to cool and refrigerate before serving.