The first dessert I ever baked, at the ripe old age of 12, was a lemon meringue pie, my grandfather Sebastian’s favorite.
As a young girl, I loved watching my grandmother Henrietta in her Pennsylvania kitchen roll out pie pastry and expertly flute the edges.
I still have cherished flavor memories of her delicate cookies, but try as I might, I can’t duplicate those. After years of baking in my own kitchen, it dawned on me that the butter, eggs, and even the flour are different from the ones my grandmother used.
Over time, I learned many of her baking techniques, including the pastry cloth she always used for rolling pie and cookie dough so they wouldn’t stick to the counter. I always pack a pastry cloth in my luggage when visiting my mom or our son and daughter-in-law, just in case I have the occasion to whip up a pie, biscuits, or rolled cookies.
Lemon meringue pie is sublime any time of the year, but especially during spring and summer. The bright, lemony tang of the filling, topped with a cloud of melt-in-your-mouth sweet meringue cleanses the palate while satisfying the urge for something light and sweet after chowing down on barbecued ribs, burgers, or a juicy grilled steak.
The secret to any lemon filling begins with the fruit. Taking a short cut by using bottled lemon juice will only yield disappointment after the first taste.
Look for fruit with smooth, thin, bright yellow skin, and avoid lemons with tinges of green, since these are underripe. They should feel heavy for their size for an abundance of juice. Before slicing in half, roll them back and forth on the counter a few times using light pressure from your hand. It’ll make them easier to squeeze, so you’ll get more juice.
For a pie that’ll win the hearts of your family and guests, serve it within one day of baking, and preferably on the same day. There’s a rather short window before meringue turns from silky to sticky, which makes it difficult to slice without destroying that picture-perfect meringue. If it begins to stick to the knife, use a wet towel to wipe the knife between each slice.
I never bake a lemon meringue pie without thinking of my grandparents. What’s your favorite food memory?
Lemon Meringue Pie
1 ½ cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
5-6 tablespoons ice water
Directions: Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor, cover, and pulse several times to mix. Add cold butter and pulse until it is pea-size. Add five tablespoons of ice water and process at low speed until the pastry is crumbly. If the mixture appears dry, add the remaining water and process just until the pastry comes together and forms a ball. Remove the pastry, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll the pastry out on a floured pastry cloth or counter and fit it into a 10-inch pie plate. Flute the edges and prick the crust with a fork. Bake the pie shell nine to 11 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven and cool completely.
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 package unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 ½ cups water
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Directions: In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, gelatin, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and zest. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and just comes to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside 15 minutes to cool, stirring every five minutes. Pour into the cooled pie shell.
3 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With a mixer on high speed, whip egg whites until they are foamy, add cream of tartar, and beat briefly. Gradually add sugar, beating until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
With an offset metal spatula or knife, spread the meringue over the lemon filling, sealing it well at the edges of the pastry. Bake four to five minutes to lightly brown the meringue. Cool 40 minutes, then chill until the pie is cold and the filling has set.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Cookbook author and PBS television chef Christy Rost is a longtime resident of the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. See her “Celebrating Home” four-minute cooking videos at youtube.com/ChristyRostCooks and christyrost.com.