Lemon meringue pie recipe - the cheffy way

Tuesday, February 19, 2019
120 individual lemon meringue pies with raspberry mojito sorbet in a gazebo in a field in the middle of nowhere? Why sure, no problem.
When you're catering on a larger scale rather than at home, you break down the components of each dish into more easily manageable steps.

Lemon meringue pie breaks down into:

  1. Tart cases
  2. Lemon filling
  3. Meringue. 

When you make a single lemon meringue pie at home you probably make your tart case, bake it blind, then remove the baking beans or flour parcel add the filling, bake that, then add the meringue on top and bake that.

When you're catering you have to transport everything from your kitchen to a venue which could be up to an hour and a half/ two hours away and involve motorways down to windy single track country lanes before finally going off road, so things have to be done a little bit differently. There's just no way of transporting the delicate meringue topping if you still want everything served to perfection, so you just make it there on the field, and have the lemon tart mix and tart cases ready to go.

Another difference with catering is you have to think of food safety - you don't want to give 120 people food poisoning from uncooked eggs (meringue doesn't get the eggs to a safe temperature) so we use pasteurised egg whites, which these days you can find in larger supermarkets normally near the ambient pastry and margarine.

Smaller sized lemon meringue pies for a dinner party trio of desserts
Different types of meringue
I tended to make two types of meringue - French and Italian.

  • French - Uncooked, the one you're most familiar with. You whip the egg whites, then slowly add the sugar, then critically, leave it beating for a further 5 minutes. Then you bake it. 
  • Italian - You heat sugar and water to 116 oC. Whip the egg whites and once they're up to soft peak, gently add the hot sugar syrup. If the egg whites were at room temperature, the hot syrup cooks the whites. Then carry on whipping to firm peak. This is cooked and stable meringue and can be refrigerated.  

Wedding Catering Pressure for Fresher
Anyway, with 120 lemon meringue pies at this wedding, I was making Italian meringue and needed to make it in batches. Time was getting on. I'd made the first batch fine.

With these particular lemon meringue pies in the catering gazebo in a field in Wales, I was having egg white nightmares. I'd taken my Kenwood mixing machine to make the meringue (you always have a generator on hand for power), but making meringue from liquid egg whites rather than fresh is slightly different. Maybe the bowl wasn't 100% grease free, maybe the egg whites were too cold (they mix best from room temperature). But the second batch of meringue would not whip properly - kept collapsing. No stability. Ahhhhh!

The guests were almost sitting for their starter. I'd wanted to get all the lemon meringue pies made before the starter, because once that main course goes, it's a race to get the kitchen cleared and the dessert plates up and ready. But there was just no way that was going to happen.

As soon as the starter had been sent out I was whipping up the second batch of meringue and had them piped just in time to get the main course in to the oven and get it out on to plates. Then the minute we'd plated the last one I was back on the third batch of meringue. 

The waiting staff, meanwhile, were putting out all the dessert plates and the other chefs were adding the other elements. As they started sending the desserts out I was just glazing the lemon meringue pies from the fourth and final meringue batch with the blow torch. Phew. Made it. Just. If you could see behind the scenes sometimes.......

Lemon tarts (no meringue) at another wedding back in 2010
The pastry recipe comes from My Home Recipes and the filling comes from the New Cranks 
Recipe Book (now not so new). 

Pastry Case Recipe 

This is the shortcrust pastry recipe that changed my pastry making - it just works so well and consistently.

Makes 2 x 8" tarts. Just, or 8 Individual fluted

2 cups plain flour (220 g)
1tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
85g butter
85g lard
90 ml water

To do

Mix together everything but the water with your fingers till it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add water and mix together to make a dough. Lightly flour the work surface and knead the dough briefly till it get a smooth even consistency. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 mins. 

When you roll out your pastry roll it out slightly larger than your pastry case as shown here. Blind bake the cases with the flour parcels as shown on that link, or baking beans for c. 20 mins till golden. Then remove flour parcels and brush the bases and side with beaten egg sealing up any holes as shown here. This also strengthens the sides of the tart case and replace back in the oven at 180 oC for 6 minutes.
Now holding in an oven cloth, you can trim the edges of the pastry so the pastry is flush to the top of the tart case, and remove it to a cooling rack. 

You can make the bases up to a week in advance and keep on a tray covered with clingfilm or an airtight container (but be careful not to move them too much as they can be fragile). Place them somewhere they are not going to get damaged with them either falling off a shelf, or something heavier falling on top of them and crushing them into a million pieces. I found the front of the van was a great place for storage of the pastry cases - the one safe place.

Lemon Tart Filling Recipe (Same for Lemon Meringue Pie)

250ml double cream
Zest and juice of 5 lemons
285g / 10 oz caster sugar
9 medium eggs

Mix it up all in one mixing bowl - that's the easy part. 

There's 2 ways you can cook it:

  • You can pour this mixture in your tart cases and bake them at 160 oC till set (20 - 25 mins for small ones, c. 1 hour for large ones) 
  • You can pour the filling mixture into oven proof casserole dish and bake in a bain marie like a creme brulee till set (c. 30 - 40 mins). 

The second option is ideal for making in advance - a day or two before and keep it cool in the fridge.

To cook, put the mix into a deep tray, then put that into another larger deep tray and top up the second tray with water so it comes 1/2 way up the lemon tart mix tray. This ensures even cooking and stops it burning around the edges of the tray. Cover the top of the tray with tin foil. Bake in the oven for 45 - 60 minutes at 160 oC till set. Take out the oven carefully to avoid spilling, or getting water in the lemon tart mix. Leave to cool before covering and refrigerating till use. 

Italian Meringue Recipe
Another recipe seared onto the memory - it came back while driving to work. It was an American recipe, so in cup measurements (1 cup being 250ml).

  • If you're using pasteurised egg white, most cartons have measurements for the number of egg whites on the side, otherwise it's useful to know that one egg white is 30g.
  • If your egg white is coming straight out of the fridge I found you can blast it in the microwave on defrost for 30 seconds. Might need another 30 seconds. Test with a temperature probe. You want it to be around 20 oC before you start whipping for optimum meringue. Also if it's too cold all the heat goes out of the sugar and it doesn't cook the whites, so then the meringue collapses after a while. Tried and tested that one. 

1 Cup caster sugar (225g)
1/3 Cup Water (80ml)
5 Egg whites (150g) at room temperature 
1/4 tsp Cream Tartar

How 2
  1. Heat the caster sugar and water in a pan. Brush down the sides occasionally with water to stop it crystallising. Heat to 116 oC which you can test with a thermometer.
  2. Meanwhile, whip the egg whites in your electric mixer with the whisk blade till you reach soft peak stage. 
  3. Keep the egg whites whisking. Once the sugar syrup reaches 116 oC pour very slowly into the whites as the machine is still whisking. Add the cream of tartar. 
  4. Keep beating for 5 minutes till thick and glossy. 
  5. Now it's ready to use, or refrigerate. 

Lemon Tart and Meringue Pie Assembly
When it's time to serve your lemon tart / meringue pie spoon the cooked lemon tart mixture into the tart cases and level off with a palette knife.

If you are making lemon meringue pie you pipe the meringue on top now and glaze it quickly with a blow torch. If you are using the Italian meringue recipe above the meringue is cooked already so you're good to go. 

If you are making lemon tart, sprinkle with demerara sugar and glaze the top with a blow torch so you have a crème brûlée like crunchy topping. This will last about 1 hour. Do not try and put in the fridge once glazed as the moisture in the fridge softens the glaze to a syrup and the tarts go soft, and your wonderful dessert is no longer so wonderful.

Raspberry Mojito Sorbet
See recipe link here.

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