Introduction: Lemon Meringue Pie (tarte Au Citron Meringuée)

"Ah, la tarte au citron meringuée..." ← this is me, dreaming about pies.

The lemon meringue pie is known as one of the French's favorite dessert, including myself. It is a rather simple dessert : a sweet crust filled with a lemon cream, topped with a soft, caramelized meringue, a meringue italienne. This pastry can be found in that form in almost any french bakery, it's what we call a classique.

You can of course make the classique like a pastry cook, recipes are easily available all around the internet. But it requires techniques, material and savoir-faire. I was still a teen when I was dreaming of this pie, and I had nothing of that. And I wanted a different pie. On my sour, lemony cream, I wanted a crunchy meringue, like the one my mom bought me à la boulangerie, when I was a kid. This is the first pie I ever made by myself. In order to eat my dreamed pie, I did some research, some tests, and some pies, and I polished my recipe. This is a much loved dessert in my family, even by my husband's grandfather, who didn't like desserts. He sometimes gave me lemons from his precious lemon tree, and I gave him a pie in return. He wasn't a man of great speach, just a humble life-long worker and a talented gardener, but I remember his eyes when eating it. I think he enjoyed the fact that the little plant - that almost died during the long car journey from south of Italy to north of France - could be turned in such a flavored treat.

There is a lot of tenderness and pride into this recipe.

I love my lemon pie to be acidic, very lemony and sweet just as necessary. I don't add vanilla in the crust, because I don't think a lemon pie needs it. The lightness and the distinctive taste of meringue, the crispiness of the crust, the sour, strongly flavoured cream. It's my dream come true...

Step 1: Warning

  • I give all of my quantities in grams, my volumes in milliliters, my temperatures in Celsius degrees. I know nothing about cup, ounces or Fahrenheit degrees. Sorry. If you want to be successful with pastry, you may consider to invest into reliable scales.
  • You may learn some french words of pastry during this instructables, that's because I was unable to find correct translations for those words that describe very precise pastry recipes.
  • I don't know how long it takes to make this pie - and I hate this question as I am mostly unable to answer, whatever the subject. From start to end, it usually takes me one morning. I can't be more accurate. Sorry again.

Step 2: Ingredients

This pie is made of a sweet crust (a pâte sablée), a lemony cream (a appareil au citron), and a crunchy meringue (a meringue française).

Ingredients for the pâte sablée :

Ingredients for the appareil au citron :

  • 3 eggs
  • 125 gms of sugar
  • 3 lemons brushed with clean water, ideally organically grown, at least untreated after harvesting.
  • 100 gms of powdered almonds
  • 75 gms of unslated butter

Ingredients for the meringue française :

  • 2 egg whites, with NO trace of yolk
  • 100 gms of sugar

Step 3: Preheat the Oven

Before starting, remove all of your jewels (rings, bracelets) and wash carefully your hands.

You can make the crust the day before, that's how I like to proceed normally.

If you make the crust for the same day, preheat the oven to 180°C, place the oven rack in bottom position.

Step 4: Start the Pâte Sablée

In a large bowl, crack the egg and add sugar and salt.

Mix well with a whisk to just combine sugar and egg.

Step 5: Add Flour

About flour : I use 300 gms, but you may find that 250 gms is enough. If you are hesitating, just use 250 gms and if the dough is sticky after adding the butter, then add flour little by little. You may not need more than 300 gms in total.

Add the flour and mix with your bare hands.

Rub gently the flour to obtain a sand-like texture.

Step 6: Add Butter

Add the butter in pieces. You can add it cold or at room temperature, it doesn't really matter because the kneading will warm it anyway.

Knead to incorporate the butter, stop as soon as you are able to form a nice and uniform dough.

Step 7: Your Pâte Sablée Is Done !

Your crust is done!

I divide the crust in two equal parts because I know it will fit exactly my 24-cm-diameter pie pan. I wrap one half in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for another later pie. You can also freeze it. Let it whole if you are unsure how much of the dough you will need.

Step 8: Roll the Dough Out

Roll the dough between two sheets of baking paper. This tip changed my pastry cook life, it's just perfect. The dough is very soft and not elastic at all, so it rolls out easily between the two sheets, and it doesn't stick to the workplan or to the rolling pin anymore. The bottom sheet of baking paper may wrinkle a bit. Remove it and replace the sheet when it does. Don't worry if the crust is getting a bit out of the baking paper.

You are aiming a thickness of 4 to 5 millimeters.

Place the crust with the baking paper into the pie pan to check the size. When you have the right size, check that you eliminated all of the creases the wrinkles may have done.

Step 9: Line the Pie Pan

Remove the top sheet.

Flip the crust into the pie pan, and remove the second sheet. Don't worry if you break the crust a bit, it does solder back easily.

With your fingers, line carefully the pie pan with the crust, cut all the dough that overflows and use it to fill the potential creases or holes, thin spots, etc.

Make it as perfect as possible.

Step 10: Add Some Weight

Take one of your baking sheet and line the crust with it. Add some weight in it. I use dry beans, you could also use raw rice, ceramic baking beans...

Dry beans or raw rice will be no longer edible after that, so store in a jar and use to weigh your future pie crusts.

Step 11: Refrigerate

If you are baking it the same day, place the lined pie pan into the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes, until firm. If you lined it for the next day, wrap it and put in the fridge. You will bake directly out the fridge.

Placing the crust at cold avoid the crust to withdraw, it is critical to obtain a nicely formed crust.

Step 12: Bake Your Pâte Sablée

When the oven is hot, take the crust out from the fridge or the freezer, and put the pie pan in the oven.

Control often the baking. When the edges of the crust start to turn golden, take the pan out of the oven to take off the baking sheet with the weight, then take the pan back in to oven. And control again. When the bottom of the crust start to turn golden, take it out. This may take 20 or 25 minutes.

Place the oven rack in middle position, keep the temperature at 180°C.

Step 13: Start the Appareil Au Citron

Start this part as soon as you put the crust into the oven.

Melt the butter in microwave oven. Let it sit to cool down.

Step 14: Mix Eggs, Sugar and Lemon Zests

In a large bowl, crack the three eggs, add the sugar, the zest of the three lemons and the juice of half a lemon. I use a zester to make my zests, but a grater will do the job.

Whisk until the sugar has melted.

Step 15: Add Lemon Juice, Powdered Almonds and Butter

Add the juice of the two and a half remaining lemons, powdered almonds and the cooled melted butter. I also add the pulp that stays in the lemon squeezer, stripped of the lemon seeds obviously.

The appareil is very runny, it is normal. That's why you need to have a nearly perfect crust, with no holes and nice, high "walls".

Step 16: Pour the Appareil in the Crust

After putting the crust out of the oven, I saw that it had cracked, so I used the second dough to make some patches. It works beautifully.

After making sure the crust is appareil-proof, pour the appareil into the crust, and carefully (don't forget it's runny!) put it back in the oven.

Step 17: Bake the Appareil

Once again, control the baking. Put it out of the oven as soon as the appareil is no longer runny when you shake gently the pie pan. I think it takes 30 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 165°C.

Step 18: Start the Meringue Française, Beat the Egg Whites

First, be sure that all the ustensils that will touch the egg whites are perfectly cleaned, there must be no trace of fat. The egg whites must be absolutely clear of yolk. Otherwise, you will never be able to make a proper meringue.

You may add a pinch of salt or drops of vinegar or whatever that help you to beat the egg whites, but it is only superstition. Just egg whites will beat perfectly if they are free of fat.

You can start this step when you notice that the appareil starts to set from the outer edges, but if you don't feel confident, you can wait it to be completely cooked and prepare the meringue once the pie is out of the oven.

Weigh and keep on hand the sugar before starting to beat.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until soft peaks form.

Step 19: Add the Sugar

Throw the sugar in one time and beat again.

Stop when the whisk leave a distinct trace in the meringue. It must look dense, with a lovely nacreous white color.

Step 20: Top the Pie With Meringue

Top the pie with the meringue, spread it evenly on the surface with a spoon. Be careful to not scratch the appareil, it is quite delicate, especially as it still hot.

I like to somehow draw a spiral with the back of the spoon onto the meringue, then (again, yes)...

Step 21: Bake the Meringue

... in the oven.

Control the baking (yes, it's my motto), and when the meringue just starts to color, lower the oven temperature to 100°C.

You can then let it in the oven for a while, until the meringue is hard and sounds hollow when you pat it gently with the nail. It may take around 40 minutes.

Step 22: Enjoy Your Tarte Au Citron Meringuée!

And now you can definitely put the pie out of the oven. Let it sit to cool down, and enjoy with a good earl grey, jasmine green tea or lavender flavoured oolong tea.

Especially enjoy the frozen snow sound of the meringue when you will cut slices out of the pie...

Step 23: Feed Your Curiosity : How the "classique De La Pâtisserie Française" Is Made

My pie and the classique have only the pâte sablée in common. In a french pâtisserie, most - if not all - of the pies are crusts that are first baked then filled with, well, some filling. They never see the oven again. The classique lemon curd requires either some experience or a thermometer to achieve it successfully. And the meringue italienne, if you don't know what it is, is a soft and sweet foam, that doesn't crunch at all. The eggs whites are beaten, then you pour in, while beating, a hot sugar syrup that will cook the eggs. So you must make a sugar syrup at the right temperature and beat the eggs at the same time, because neither of two preparations can wait.
The crust if filled with the lemon curd, then topped with the meringue italienne. Of course, it is made with a piping bag (pâtissiers are always ready to brandish their piping bags). And finally it is caramelized with a blowtorch. This is a really beautiful pastry, but also a real pâtissier work.

And the meringue doesn't crunch.

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