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Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
More than a recipe, all the tips & techniques you'll need to pull off the BEST lemon meringue in the world. Recipe from those persnickity people at cook's illustrated.

I have many recipes that I’ve changed up over the years, but not this one for the Lemon Meringue Pie Cook’s Illustrated version. It is absolute perfection in every way and gets rave reviews. The lemon filling is intense and tart, just a little sweet with a gorgeous texture. The meringue is perfect – it’s like a tasting a fluffy cloud of sweet deliciousness.

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie

Any lemon meringue pie is a bit of work, and this one is no exception but this pie is SO worth it! It’s the pinnacle of pies! Even people that are lukewarm about Lemon Meringue go on and on about this! You’ll hear it, “Wow, I didn’t think I liked Lemon Meringue, but this is so good!” Just smile and say “Thanks! I’ve printed out the recipe, would you like a copy?” as everyone gushes on!

Cook’s has solved every potential pitfall a lemon meringue pie could possibly have. If you know Cook’s Illustrated, you know their recipes are the BEST but there’s always a few fussy steps.

I’ve made the Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie enough times to know that the pre-pie making set up is critical.  You’re going to dirty a lot of dishes and need to have everything on hand before you start. The recipe moves quickly and the timing is everything.

I’m going to guide you through so you won’t have a stressful nightmare of a time with this recipe and a massive clean up later! I’ll point out a few places where there could be potential trouble in the recipe so you can avoid any pitfalls. We cooks usually just pick these things up, but why, when someone can tell you? But first of all, a few things to know:

  • Don’t make meringue on a super humid, hot day – this recipe is pretty fail-safe & I’ve made it in the summer in a rainstorm with no problem – but if it’s 95 degrees, been raining for a week and you have no air – make something else!
  • Allow plenty of time to cool! Warm lemon meringue…yuck. Cook’s says at least two hours on a rack, but I find it takes a good three & half hours or longer.
  • You need a prebaked pie shell – make it easy on yourself and make and bake the crust the day or evening before!
  • Empty your dishwasher or wash your dishes before making this so you have empty sinks to fill, plenty of bowls and a place to put the dirty stuff!
  • Always have an extra lemon in case they’re a bit stingy with the juice. If they’re hard, microwave them for a minute and roll them on the counter, pressing down firmly to release as much juice as possible.
  • Zest before juicing and save any extra zest in a small container in the freezer – easy to use if you need some later and don’t have a lemon.
  • The color of citrus doesn’t matter – choose by weight!

Here’s the kitchen equipment you need when you make the Lemon Meringue Pie, Cook’s Illustrated Version:

  • Seven small bowls: 4 to separate the eggs (one is for the extra two whites), 1 to cool the cornstarch mixture, 1 to mix the sugar and cream of tartar, the last for the zest.
  • 2 pans
  • Mixer bowl & beaters
  • 2 spatulas
  • Whisk
  • Fine grater & reamer
  • Plastic wrap
  • Just about every measuring cup in every size you have

I don’t want to discourage you in any way about this pie, but I do know the first time I made this, I was not prepared in any way shape or form and I’m an experienced cook. I ran short of bowls for one and was pulling dishes out of the dishwasher and washing them to use, and was piling dirty dishes all over my counter, well, you get the idea!

And yes, it was all worth it! And no, the photos don’t do it justice! As a matter of fact, the sliced pie photo was taken after my dog, Gibson had knocked it off the table, so that is actually a testament to how well this pie stands up!

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
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Lemon Meringue Pie – Cook’s Illustrated Version

Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie
  • Author: adapted from Cook's Illustrated
  • Total Time: 1 1/2 hrs + cool
  • Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups water
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus ½ cup fresh lemon juice (2 1/2 to 3 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 2 pieces

Meringue:

  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup (3½ oz) granulated sugar

Pie crust:

Instructions

Getting started:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Grate first and then zest lemons, reserving a tablespoon of the zest and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Use a fine grater and cover the zest so it doesn’t get dry and it will be unnoticeable in the pie.

Divide eggs: note you’ll need six yolks and only four whites, so use another small bowl for the extra two whites. This is best done by working with one egg at a time over a small bowl or cup. Crack the egg, let the white drip into the cup, then put the yolk in one bowl and the white in another. Repeat, breaking the egg over the now empty bowl.

For the Filling:

Have all ingredients ready and within easy reach.

In a heavy medium-sized pan, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in water and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When mixture starts to turn translucent, (it will still be whitish, but you’ll see the difference) working quickly and whisking vigorously, add in egg yolks, two at a time. Whisk in lemon zest, juice and butter. Return mixture to brief simmer, whisking constantly, then remove from heat. Lay sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface of filling to keep warm and prevent skin from forming.

For the Meringue:

Mix together cream of tartar and sugar, set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the tablespoon of cornstarch, then whisk in 1/3 cup water. Bring to a bare simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, until it becomes just thickened and translucent looking, 1 to 2 minutes at most. Remove from heat, transfer to a small bowl (so it doesn’t continue to cook from the heat of the pan) and let cool slightly to barely lukewarm as the eggs are being whisked.

If using stand mixer, fit it with the whisk. Beat egg whites and vanilla at medium low-speed until foamy and frothy. Turn the speed up to medium-high and add, a tablespoon at a time, the cream of tartar and sugar mixture. Beat until incorporated (it won’t feel grainy when you run a bit between your fingers) and the mixture forms soft, billowy mounds.

While continuing to whip, add the cooked cornstarch mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. As it’s added, place it between the beaters and the side of the bowl. Continue to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, about two to three minutes longer.

Assemble:

If filling is not still hot, during the last minutes of beating the egg whites, remove plastic and return to very low heat for just a moment or two to warm.

Pour warm filling into cooled pre-baked pie crust. Working quickly, dollop meringue in small mounds across the hot pie filling. Using rubber spatula, immediately distribute meringue evenly around edge first and then the then center of pie, attaching meringue to pie crust to prevent shrinking. Top off with any remaining meringue.

Using the back of spoon, create attractive swirls and peaks in the meringue. (I personally like to use the spoon to make small “scallops” with only a very few peaks which prevent the peaks from over baking before the rest is nicely browned.) Bake until meringue is light golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool to room temperature on a rack (at least two hours, Cook’s says, but count on three & half). This pie is at it’s best the same day.

Notes

Have all ingredients ready; this is most definitely not a measure and ready it as you go recipe. Timing is critical.

 

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Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie is the pinnacle of pie perfection! Seriously, everyone RAVES about this pie! Even people who say they don't like Lemon Meringue Pie gush on and on about it. Just say thanks and hand them the recipe! #Lemon Meringue Pie #Cook's Illustrated Lemon Meringue Pie

52 Comments on “Lemon Meringue Pie – Cook’s Illustrated Version

  1. I am looking forward to making this for Christmas (my hubby’s fav). Can it be made 1-2 days ahead of time? Thanks Debbie

    • Hi Debbie, yes it can. The meringue should hold well this time of year and you’ll want it completely cool when you serve it. Let me amend that, Debbie. I’d go one day ahead, not two…

      • Thanks for the tip I did not know this. Truly great info.

        L & P,

        Sandra

        • The same to you, Sandra.

          These photos were all taken the second day, and after I set the pie down on my little table and turned to get my camera, my dog, Gibson (RIP Gibs) stuck his big old snout in the far side of the pie and knocked it to the floor. It landed upright, so I turned it to get the pic, which was unfortunate because that crust was NO work of art and that was the worst side. I tried to get fancy with these little cuts you fold over. But in true blogger fashion…or maybe true dog owner fashion, the show must go on. It’s a bit of work to make, & I didn’t want to make it just again, lol, I just cut off the bad half and managed to rescue a slice or two of only slightly damaged pie!!

          So in spite of being the next day, half eaten by a 100 pound labrador and dropped to the floor, it held up remarkably well!! I had a little trouble getting a “perfect” slice but I blame the trauma!!

          And the meringue still looks gorgeous, I think!!

  2. I believe this is the recipe I made once over 10 years ago. I got the recipe from Cooks Illustrated magazine a year or two before my mom died in 2006. She was always the queen of pie making in the family. Lemon Meringue was my favorite of her pies. One day she said to me, Sandra I don’t know what you will do for a lemon pie after I am gone. I saw it as a loving challenge for me to show her I could carry on her tradition. Whew! It was a challenge. You are so right about the number of bowls etc. needed and the mess. It took me 4 hours of intense concentration and will power to pull this off. I can say that any recipe that has the word “Ultimate” in it I have steered clear of since. They are not kidding. But I will say it was the Ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie of Perfection. The one thing different that was so remarkable was the crust! I was buttery light and flakey but held together beautifully. I think there was the use of ice somewhere in the making of the pastry. That alone would have given the word “Ultimate” its meaning. But in addition the Meringue and lemon filling was like it was made in heaven. Thank you for finding and posting this recipe again for me. I have gotten over my promise to never take it on again. But I did not see the recipe for the Cooks version of the crust do you still have that?

    • Hi Sandra, and thanks for stopping by. My Mom was the lemon meringue pie maker (and see passed in 2000.) I have to admit this is actually better than hers – but I usually use my Mom’s crust recipe which I don’t have with me (out of town) and it included finely ground almonds. Gosh it is a good crust. I never did write down the Cook’s Pie Crust that went with this pie.

      I know what you mean about “ultimate” recipes, but this pie really is the best lemon meringue I’ve ever had!

      I did a bit of digging around and almost every pie crust I could find was from a 2008 recipe, the one that uses Vodka, but then I found a recipe adapted from another Cook’s pie crust using ice-water and sour cream. Does that sound familiar? This one has ice-water and sour cream:

      http://wegottaeat.com/chef_linzi/recipes/foolproof-all-butter-pie-pastry

      Anyway, I hope that helps!

      • Thank you for such a quick reply. I am not remembering the sour cream ingredient but it could be since I don’t remember much about what went into the crust. But I do agree with you this was the best Lemon Meringue Pie I had ever eaten and the others raved about it too. But I almost took an oath to never again make it., 4 hours! But time has passed just like the pains of childbirth passes and I am probably going to try once again to make this pie. You’ve so graciously found the forgotten recipe. Thanks again.

        • lol to the childbirth! If the trauma didn’t fade no one would have more than one baby…or make more than one lemon meringue, huh!! I’m getting all psyched up to make this again, now, so that’s all your fault! j/k…

        • Sandra, if you’re still following comments and it’s not too late, I was leafing through my recipe folder and I DO have a Cook’s Illustrated “Best Pie Dough.” Note the changes for a deep dish pie, which is the glass pyrex like the one I used.

          1 1/4 cups flour
          1/2 teaspoon salt
          1 tablespoon sugar
          6 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into 1/4″ pieces
          4 tablespoons shortening, chilled
          3 tablespoons ice water and up to 4 tablespoons

          Mix flour, salt, sugar in food processor with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces across flour, tossing to coat. Cut into flour with five 1 second pulses. Add shortening and continue to pulse until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with bits of butter no larger than small peas, about four more 1 second pulses. Turn into medium bowl.

          Sprinkle 3 tablespoons water over mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix. Press down with the broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more of water if dough will not come together.

          Shape dough into a ball with hands, then flatten into a 4″ wide disc. Dust lightly with flour and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes before rolling.

          For a 10″ pie or 9″ deep dish, increase flour by 1/4 cup and butter by 2 tablespoons.

          More directions were given for a double crust…

          • You are wonderful! That sounds exactly like what I vaguely remembered! Not it is not too late either. I am still trying to work up my courage. I have two visits of family coming in Aug and Sept. I will try to get to the gym for a week or so to build up my stamina then give it another go. This is wonderful for you to go to the trouble to find this lost perfect pie recipe. I will admit I am tempted to try the sour cream crust it sounded delicious too. Thank you so much.

            L & P,

            Sandra

            • Sandra, you are so funny! I love your sense of humor! I have made a crust before with cream cheese and it was easy to work with and beautiful – I’m guessing that the same would hold true with the sour cream.

    • Yeah, it is! Which is why I detailed it out coz the first time I made this is was a mess and I was digging around for bowls, tupperware, etc!

      This is worth every single moment spent on it – it is so much better than any lemon meringue I have ever tasted or made! Of course that’s an awful big build up, isn’t it!! It’s just SO bright!

  3. oh dear… that looks like an extra pound or two on the waistline…. But on the brighter side: I have 4 dozen eggs 😀 They will not go to wa(i)ste 😉

    • I stepped on the scale this morning…am regretting that second piece and even more so the cheesy potatoes I made to go with Easter dinner. And the chocolate. 🙂

    • Thanks, Conor! I always forget how much I like lemon meringue until I make one = which is not often as they are a bit of a pain! Then the first taste and I remember it’s worth the work.

    • Thanks, Bonnie! I have been thinking of lemon ever since you mentioned curd a couple of weeks ago! 🙂 I wish I could give you a slice! 🙂

    • Happy Easter to you, too! As I took a couple quick shots of the pie, Gibson (the LAPrador) was attempting to finish the rest, behind my back! He certainly had a happy Easter! The rest of us had to share!

  4. Oh yum. That was one of the family staples. I’ll have to ask mum to give me the recipe she’s always used. They’ll probably be pretty similar, though. There’s only so many variations of lemon meringue pie in the woorld!

  5. Wow, you’re right, there’s a lot going on in this recipe! But what a lovely, high and fluffy meringue! The perfect party food, I agree 🙂

    • Thanks! We aren’t cutting in to it until tomorrow for Easter dessert, so unfortunately no “inside” photo, yet! But this recipe does have the most gorgeous meringue!

        • LOL! Well meringue is at it’s best the same day, so I’m hoping it will still be lovely tomorrow! I found this particular recipe holds better than most, probably because of the cornstarch mixture!

  6. What a beautiful pie- that meringue is a thing of BEAUTY. Thank you for bringing it to the party 🙂

    • Hi Jess, I appreciate you stopping by! Have a piece! Hey, I noticed that we BOTH have a post on the Ultimate double chocolate brownie! You have good taste, my friend! 🙂

  7. Love lemon meringue pie, I am guessing it’s a mistake to have 1 1/2 cups water twice in the filling, right? Really different recipe for meringue adding the corn starch stabilizer. Cooks illustrated always comes up with great recipes.

  8. Sorry but could you clarify (this may be illustrated in the pictures but they’re not loading in for me- I live in a rural area and my internet can be really spotty)? For the filling you’ve got 1 and 1/2 cups of water listed twice and then in the filling instructions you don’t mention water…is it just 1 and 1/2 cups of water and is that what you’re mixing the sugar, salt and cornstarch with to bring to a simmer before you add the yolks, juice, and zest? Much thanks=)

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