Lemon pie may be my favorite pie but I’m not crazy about the meringue. It’s kind of a take-it-or-leave-it affair. What I really don’t like is how it looks on the third day. It pulls back from the crust and weeps—not very attractive.
I’ve never figured out to solve that problem. I know, if you smear the meringue tight against the crust, the meringue is supposed to cling to it. It does help, and a tablespoon of starch retards the weeping (the separation of water from the egg whites).
But I have a better answer: Forget the meringue and add a top crust. If you want a creamy accompaniment, add a dollop of vanilla or lemon cloud flavored whipped cream to each slice.
I discovered a double crust lemon pie recipe years ago, but in the original recipe, the lemon filling is a little runny. It tastes great, but it isn’t firm enough for clean cuts and classic presentations. We went to work to make a better, firmer filling without detracting from what we love about this pie—the double crust and the tart, smooth, lemon filling.
Modifying the Recipe
There are two ways you can adjust a recipe: change the ingredients or change the preparation method. Since we didn’t want to affect the flavor of the filling, we first tried to change the method.
This recipe has two firming agents, cornstarch and egg yolks. The starch gelatinizes as it cooks, usually above 175 degrees, and the egg yolks set, but acidity and sugar affect the gelatinization. So, in our first trial we reheated the filling on the stovetop.
This seemed to help only slightly. That may have been because the extra cooking reduced the liquid in the filling, not because the chemistry changed.
Changing the Ingredients
After studying the original recipe, we concluded that the liquid to egg yolk ratio was too high (Sugar, because it melts, is considered a liquid). We made some changes to the recipe and reduced the liquid to 2/3 cup per egg yolk and the viscosity was perfect, but we had lost some of the tartness that we enjoyed in the first recipe. We adjusted the recipe again, increasing the lemon and reducing other liquids to hold the egg to liquid ratio. This time it was right on.
Changing the amount of filling
In the process of developing this recipe, we made several meringue pie recipes. These recipes only half filled the pie shell with lemon filling. The rest of the space was for meringue. For a lemon meringue pie, that’s perfect with a nice balance of tart lemon, sweet meringue, and pastry crust.
Our recipe doesn’t have meringue though and it has nearly twice as much crust. So, we adjusted the volume, increasing the filling by 65-percent. This filled the crust making it more attractive and with a better balance between the crust and filling. Now the recipe worked.
We topped each slice with a dollop of lemon flavored whipped cream and served it.
The Recipe: Doubled Crust Lemon Pie
We originally made the crust from scratch. We don’t do that anymore; we use a just-add-water pie crust mix. That’s what professional bakers usually use; they don’t take the time to make their crusts from scratch. We found a mix that we liked and that we could buy in bulk. That’s what we sell in the store.
(Selling that pie crust mix was one of the best decisions we’ve made. The crust is what stops many home bakers. With a very simple mix—you just add water and mix until the dough ball forms—they can make great pies again.
Pie crust dough for a double crust pie
1-2/3 cups water
1-1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
8 egg yolks from large eggs
1/3 cup water
4 tablespoons butter
- Mix the pie crust dough.
- Combine the 1-2/3 cups water, the first measure of sugar, salt, and lemon juice and zest in a stainless-steel saucepan.
- Whisk together the remaining one cup sugar and the cornstarch.
- Combine the egg yolks and the 1/3 cup water. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and stir to combine well.
- Bring the lemon juice mixture to a boil.
- To temper the egg mixture, spoon a little of the hot mixture into the egg yolk mixture and stir, repeat the process several times.
- Place the tempered egg mixture in the sauce pan so that both mixtures are combined. Return the mixture to a boil and cook for about two minutes after boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.
- Pour the mixture into a prepared pie crust. Add a top crust. Make small, decorative slits on top of the crust and bake for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees or until the crusts are lightly browned.
Cool the pie before serving. This is best served chilled.
To make lemon flavored whipped cream, replace the vanilla with lemon flavor and add lemon zest. When you grate the zest, be sure to get just the yellow outer peel; the white inner layer is bitter.