Lemon meringue pie is a classic. When I say classic, I mean it's a bit of an antique where recipes are concerned. Meringue is said to have originated in the 17th century and is still used widely today. Lemon desserts have been around even longer than that, going back to the medieval times. The lemon meringue pie as we know it, with a thick lemon layer on the bottom and a fluffy white meringue top, is originally attributed to a Swiss baker and has been around since at least 1875.
Being that the recipe is so old, it came as a bit of a surprise to me that our oldest son requested the pie for the occasion of his 15th birthday this week. No traditional birthday cake. Again. With our middle son requesting waffles for his 13th birthday recently, and now this pie, I'm beginning to think perhaps birthday cakes have run their course at our house. Or perhaps the children get together, plotting and scheming, to throw me for a loop with new and sometimes challenging recipe requests. They know I won't decline such requests because it is, after all, their birthday. It may just be a birthday conspiracy.
I made it easier on myself — and on you — and opted to make the pie in a tart pan with a shortbread crust. This way there's no rolling of dough or pinching of edges. All you have to do is press the dough into the pan with your fingers. And the tart will easily pop right out of the pan for slicing because tart pans have those handy removable bottoms. Plus, now the dessert has those fancy fluted edges.
Lemon meringue pie with shortbread crust
Makes 1 9-inch pie
For the crust:
3/4 cups butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round tart pan with removable bottom and fluted edges.
In a bowl, stir together the butter, powdered sugar, flour, and salt until it makes a soft, crumbly dough. Pour the dough into the prepared tart pan and, using your fingers, press the dough firmly into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Prick the crust several times with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until set. Set the crust aside to cool.
Note: At this stage, be sure to separate your eggs for the filling and the meringue, and juice and zest your lemons before proceeding. Have your other ingredients out and in place because you will need to have everything accessible as you work through these next steps.
For the lemon filling:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the water and turn the heat on to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue whisking as it thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan briefly from the heat. In a small bowl, take 1/4 cup of the hot thickened mixture and whisk it quickly into the beaten egg yolks to temper the eggs. Then, return the saucepan to the heat and quickly whisk in the egg yolk mixture until yellow and smooth. Whisk in the butter, lemon juice, and zest, cooking for another minute until the butter is melted and the filling is smooth and fragrant. Pour the filling directly into the prepared tart crust.
Now, promptly make the meringue.
For the meringue:
5 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 375.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed. Gradually add the salt, sugar, and cream of tartar while the egg whites are beating. Beat until the meringue is bright white and fluffy, holding soft peaks. Using an offset spatula, spread the meringue onto the warm filling, making swoops and peaks. Place the pie into the oven and bake for 6 minutes or until the peaks of the meringue begin to brown and the meringue is just set.
Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool completely before slicing and serving.
Recipe for lemon filling and meringue adapted from "Art of the Pie" by Kate McDermott.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Her new book, "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook," is available now. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.