Mega Lemon Meringue Pie.
I just finished listening to a really wonderful book by Liane Moriarty called What Alice Forgot. Oh, I really loved this book. I love this author. This is the second book of hers that I’ve read and am moving on to the third. She does a brilliant job of showing how life is made from a million tiny decisions, each one random and chaotic, each taking us down a different path than if we had chosen something else.
And, here is what that has to do with Lemon Meringue Pie.
In What Alice Forgot, the main character organizes a fundraiser in her community that includes baking the world’s largest lemon meringue pie. All throughout the book, there is talk of “Mega Meringue Day”. The day of the event, the author describes rolling out the pastry, and the smell of the lemony filling and smoothing out the fluffy white meringue. So, naturally, I wanted to bake a lemon meringue pie.
But… I have a few issues with Lemon Meringue Pie. The filling is often too sweet and of a similar consistency as jell-o. Also, the meringue can be too heavy. I wanted a tart, intensely lemon flavored filling with a silky, almost pudding-like consistency, topped with light, airy melt-in-your-mouth meringue.
This is easier said than done. You want just enough starch to allow the filling to stand up on it’s own, without slopping out all over the place when you cut into the pie, but not so much that your pie ends up resembling anything close to jell-o. Adding butter to the filling is vital to creating a silky, luscious texture, but too much makes the starch molecules fat and lazy, resulting in more of a thick lemon sauce.
There is also the problem of creating an intense, tart lemon flavor because the acid from the lemon juice can also interfere with the thickening properties of corn starch. So, using all lemon juice instead of a mixture of lemon juice and water isn’t really an option. Some recipes use lemon zest in the filling to intensify the lemon flavor. But, I don’t like the texture of zest in the the smooth filling. I found that adding a couple teaspoons of lemon extract gave it the intensity I wanted without compromising the texture.
Also, I wanted some sort of complimentary flavor… a subtle “extra” that to add some depth and softness to the lemon flavor. Kind of like what vanilla or espresso does for chocolate.
This recipe is the result. The filling is soft and silky, yet firm enough to slice. The meringue is ethereal. And, while this pie is completely acceptable without it, the lavender infusion is the perfect complement to the tart lemon filling.
- 1 pre-baked pie shell
- ¼ cup dried lavender
- 1¼ cup boiling water
- 1¼ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ⅔ cup cold water
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tbsp butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1½ tsp lemon extract
- Put the lavender leaves in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Stir gently to mix and let seep for about 15 minutes.
- In a medium, heavy bottom sauce pan, whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt to combine. Slowly stir in ⅔ cup cold water, whisking the whole time.
- Add the lemon juice and egg yolks and whisk to combine.
- Strain the lavender petals from the hot water. Discard the lavender. Pour the lavender water slowly into the lemon mixture, whisking the entire time.
- Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring with a spoon the entire time. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook and stir for 1 minute longer. Don't over cook.
- Remove from heat and stir in the butter and the lemon extract. Pour filling into crust. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the filling to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy and then sprinkle in the cream of tarter and salt. Continue to beat the egg whites until it's starting to look a bit glossy and then sprinkle in the sugar.
- Beat the meringue until stiff peaks form (if you lift the beater from the egg whites, peaks will form that do not fall).
- Mix the cornstarch and water in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened into a gel. Cook 30 seconds more and remove from heat.
- With the mixer running, add the cornstarch gel slowly to the meringue, 1 tsp at a time.
- Using a spatula, spread the meringue on the cooled pie filling, spreading it all the way to the edges of the pie crust. The meringue should be a bit thicker in the middle. If you like, using the spatula, create swirls or little spikes all over the pie.
- Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the meringue is a light golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
*This pie is best the day it is served, but it will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.