Here’s the marriage of the perfect crust, the richest lemon filling, and the best meringue.
For the crust:
2/3 cup butter
1/3 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/3 cup pastry or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons butter
For the meringue:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
6 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. Cut the butter into chunks and put it in the freezer for 20 minutes. It is important that the butter be partially frozen. Measure the water and put it in the freezer. Add the vinegar to the water.
2. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl.
3. With a pastry knife, cut the butter into the flour mixture, continuing to cut until the mixture becomes coarse and grainy. Add the water all at once. Mix with a fork until the dough starts to come together and then knead it with your hands until you form a dough ball. Add another teaspoon of water or a little flour if necessary to reach the right constituency. Refrigerate the dough ball for 20 minutes.
4. Roll the dough out into a disk large enough to fit in a nine-inch pie pan with a 3/4-inch hang over.
5. Place the dough in a dark nine-inch pie pan and form the crust. Form a fluted edge with your fingers. The crust should not have any seams through which the filling can leak. Prick the bottom of the crust lightly but not enough to completely penetrate the crust.
6. Line the unbaked crust with a sheet of aluminum foil. Place pie weights in the foil-lined crust. Bake for ten minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another ten minutes or until the pie crust is lightly browned. For a crispy crust, do not under bake.
Baker’s note: While making the crust, we do not want to let the dough get warm enough to melt the butter. Therefore it is important that the water and butter be ice cold. It is necessary that the butter remain a solid and not become a liquid. Work quickly to keep the butter cold and do not handle the dough any more than is necessary.
For the filling:
1. In a medium pan, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add a little of the water and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the cornstarch is mixed in without lumps. Add the rest of the water and lemon juice and whisk until smooth.
2. Cook over medium heat, stirring often with a whisk, for five minutes or until the slurry thickens and is translucent.
3. Add the eggs yolks and zest and whisk well. Cook for another two minutes, stirring with the whisk constantly. The filling should be simmering.
4. Remove the filling from the heat and stir in the butter. Let cool for ten minutes and then scrape the filling into baked pie crust. Refrigerate the pie for two hours.
For the meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1. In a small saucepan, mix the sugar and cornstarch. Add the water and stir. Cook over medium heat until the sugar water boils rapidly, stirring occasionally. Cook for four minutes. The sugar syrup should reach the soft ball stage, 234 to 240 degrees with your candy thermometer.
2. While the sugar syrup is cooking, whip the egg whites. In a steel or glass bowl completely free of any fat residue, beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tarter together until soft, not stiff, peaks form. Try to time the initial beating of the egg whites so that it is done not more than five minutes before the syrup is cooked.
3. While beating the egg whites with an electric mixer, drizzle the hot syrup down the side of the bowl and into the softly beaten egg whites. Add the vanilla. Continue beating until stiff, glassy peaks form.
4. With a spatula, scrape the meringue onto the pie. Spread the meringue to the edge and seal the meringue to the crust. Use the spatula to form an attractive mountain of meringue with peaks and ridges. Bake the pie for six to eight minutes or until the meringue is attractively browned. (Further baking is unnecessary since the meringue is already cooked.)
Eggs whites at room temperature beat to a higher volume. You can bring your eggs to room temperature by placing them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes.
Any fat in the bowl will retard the formation of foam in the egg whites. Plastic bowls often carry an unseen sheen of fat within the surface of the bowl.
The intention of the hot syrup drizzled into the egg whites is to cook the egg whites to a temperature of 160 degrees. The cooked egg whites will be much more stable and less likely to weep. Cooked egg whites are also less susceptible to bacteria. Use your insta-read thermometer and check the temperature of the egg whites after adding the syrup. If the egg white mixture is not close to 160 degrees, discard the mixture and start again.