Thursday, February 24, 2011

Helen's Lemon Meringue Pie

There's nothing difficult about making a lemon meringue pie, but there is a whole lot of learning that comes from baking one.  I decided to share with Maddie her Great Grandma Helen's (my Mom) recipe and get her started on a love for baking like it did for me.  Now, understandably the techniques were over her head, but the point of sharing a long time tradition is what I wanted her to have today.

I remember watching my mother bake this pie and couldn't wait until she started turning over "duties" to me.  First it was making the pie crust and learning to blind bake.  Blind baking a pie crust is not difficult, but if you're going to make any cream pies, getting it right is a must.
 Adding a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil for the first 8 minutes was crucial in making sure the crust didn't "bubble" up.  You can also use pie weights or the economical, dried beans.
You should have a nicely browned crust ready for your filling once it cools.

When I was tall enough, I got to make the filling...that luscious, tart lemony pudding that the pillows of meringue set upon.  Stirring the sugar, cornstarch and water and watching how the mixture thickened readying for the next step of tempering the eggs.  This step is a little tricky, but getting it right is important or you'll end up with scrambled eggs!
Remove the hot mixture from the burner and start adding it to beaten egg yolks, whisking it into the eggs quickly.  You end up adding about 1/2 cup (or a little more) to the eggs to bring them to the same temperature before adding it back into the sugar mixture.  Heat on the stove top for an addition 2 minutes, then, add the butter and lemon zest.  Finally, gently stir in the freshly squeezed lemon juice, which Maddie helped squeeze for me.
The last step is making the meringue.  Getting this part right, to me is crucial because I wanted to please my mother with making a meringue that didn't "weep."  Weeping happens when you don't take the time to beat the sugar long enough into the meringue.  I learned to count up to 60 (1 minute) between the tablespoons of sugar I would add just to make sure.

Today, I let Maddie help roll out the pie dough and beat the meringue.  She's not tall enough to be at the stove yet to make the filling, but one day, she will and I'll be there to guide her, just like Mom did with me.  However, Maddie got two things right today...
...licking the spatula that stirred the lemon filling and the beaters that whipped the meringue!

Helen's Lemon Meringue Pie
Perfect Pie Dough
Heat oven to 450F-degrees.  Roll the pie dough and place in a 9-inch pie plate; flute the edges.  Take a fork and prick the surface and around the sides.  Add a piece of aluminum foil to the center as a weight (or you can use put a piece of parchment over the surface and fill with dried beans or pie weights.) Place pie plate on a baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 5 to 6 minutes until golden brown.
Lemon Filling:

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
Zest of 1 lemon (about 2 T)
2 T unsalted butter
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
2-3 T pie filling enhancer (optional, but helps the filling set)

In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour and cornstarch together.  Slowly add the water, stirring constantly place over medium heat.  When mixture thickens and starts to bubble, remove from the heat and add about a tablespoon at a time to the lightly beaten egg yolks.  Whisk the hot mixture into the eggs, adding a tablespoon at a time until the eggs have adapted to the hot mixture.  Pour mixture into the saucepan and return to the heat for another two minutes.  Remove from the heat and immediately add the butter and zest.  Stir the mixture until the butter melts.  Slowly add the lemon juice to the mixture.  Pour mixture into the cool pie crust and start the meringue.


4 large egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla
6 T granulated sugar

My mother chose to make a 4-egg white meringue--she didn't like to skimp!  In a large metal or glass bowl, place the 4 egg whites and the cream of tartar.  Beat to soft peaks.  Add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating well (and I mean well) after each addition.  If I was at home, I would have used Baker's Sugar, a super fine sugar, but Erin had granulated sugar, which in reality is what my mother used.  Lastly, add the vanilla.

Preheat the oven to 400F-degrees, making sure the oven rack is on the second notch from the bottom. Mound the meringue over top, making sure you cover the filling completely.  Take your spatula and add some peaks to the meringue.  Place the pie plate on the baking sheet again. Place the pie in the oven for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before serving.  Placing the pie in the refrigerator 2 to 4 hours before serving will set the filling.

Maddie told her Mommy (on the phone when she called from work) that she made a pie with Mimi, but quickly added, "I not sharing!"  She did share and the memories came back. Enjoy!


  1. My mouth is watering as I sit and stare at the picture of this beautiful creation you called "Helen's Lemon Meringue Pie". Mom's pie was the best and you learned very well----I wish I could say the same about me!! I'm with Maddie----licking the spatula and beaters!! I always thought Mom baked the pie for 10-12 minutes after putting on the meringue to brown the peaks and that also helped set the filling. My meringue always weeps and flattens out---I obviously don't beat it well enough or more obviously, I don't know how to bake pies!!! Anyway, I really enjoyed the post and may try to bake Mom's pie once again. :) Barb

  2. I only did 5 minutes yesterday, but you're right, it could be a little browner, so I changed it to 8-10 depending on the oven. I remember leaving Mom's oven cracked when the broiler was on, but the newer ovens say to close it. That might be the difference in how quickly the meringue browned yesterday. Anyway you look at it, it was yummy and that's what Maddie kept saying..."mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!"

  3. Also, I didn't mention in the post, but yesterday was the anniversary of my father's passing, that happened to fall on his mother's (Grandma Tierney) birthday. So, baking the Lemon Meringue, which was Mom's specialty and one of his favorites, helped the day pass with fond memories. XOXO

  4. Lovely post! Not a fan of lemon meringue pie, but I do love the crust you baked it looks wonderful for many other pies. Thanks

  5. How fun! What good helper :) The best spatula licker in the house.

  6. Maybe in this house, but I know a little guy who can out lick her :D

  7. It was so yummy and just what I was craving after a long day in the office!
    Maddie first saw lemon merengue in the bakery display of a nj diner and said "I want that" so I knew she would love baking one with Mimi.

  8. That pie looks so yummy!
    I want to make one, but I'm afraid mine would never turn out as beautiful as yours!

  9. Susan you have the most adorable grandchildren and I love your sweet stories. Yum! Your pie looks sooo delicious.
    Hugs, -mary

    PS: I hear there was 6" of snow in Redmond this week. It's been in the mid to upper 70s here for over a week. My perennials are popping up and I've been spending lots of time in my garden. It makes me so happy! :D

  10. You're right Mary...I left for a week and Spring came with me :D I feel badly for my daffodils that were ready to bloom; hopefully it will be gone when I get home tomorrow. XOXO

  11. Looks scrumptious! I'll bet Maddie loved the baking lesson!