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Limoncello Lemon Meringue Pie: A Guest Blog by Ashley English

After reading Ashley English's recently published book, A Year of Piesnot only was I inspired to...well...make more pie, I was compelled to contact her to write a guest blog. Her approachable and down-to-earth style and incredible pie ideas are downright inspirational. Take a look at Ashley's blog, Small Measure, and her books for budding homesteaders. And by all means, make this pie.

Meringue. Sometimes just the word alone is enough to deflate the confidence of even the most courageous, intrepid baker. At its core, meringue is nothing more than a big pile of bubbles. Beating egg whites alters their inherent proteins, creating films that fold over the bubbles and get locked into position as they’re hardened and firmed up by sugar. This billowy confection is temperamental, it’s true, but, given the right coddling and hand-holding (along with some insider tips), meringue mastery will soon be yours!

Meringue-Making Tips

*Use room temperature eggs. Cold whites won’t whip as quickly as will eggs that are around 68-72 degrees F.

*Use eggs that are several days old. Older whites provide fully, fluffier, more voluminous whites.

*Don’t allow any egg yolk to mix with the whites. The fat in the yolk will prohibit the whites from foaming up properly.

*Be sure your mixing bowl and utensils have no water on them. Moisture is the enemy of meringue.

*Add the sugar in increments, not all at once. Sugar is hygroscopic, pulling moisture into itself, which you don’t want to happen suddenly with meringue (remember, moisture is the enemy).

*If at all possible, don’t make the meringue on a rainy or especially humid day. Keep all that moisture at bay.

*This pie is best served the same day that it’s made. As the meringue is subjected to temperature fluctuations, it will begin to deflate, ooze, and weep. 

Other articles you might enjoy: Peach Pie, Let Them Eat Pie: An Instructional Series, Rolling Pie Dough

Limoncello Lemon Meringue Pie
One 9-inch pie

Reprinted with permission from A Year of Pies © 2012 by Ashley English, Lark Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.


You will need
1/2 recipe Basic Pie Dough  (recipe follows)
9-inch pie pan

1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
5 large egg yolks
2/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup Limoncello
Grated zest of two lemons
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cubed

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Prepare the crust. 

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit into the 9-inch pie pan. Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch and crimp the edges decoratively. Prick the bottom of the crust 6 or 7 times with a fork, then place the crust in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, then remove from the oven, leaving the oven on.
Remove the dried beans or pie weights and parchment paper from the crust, and return it to the oven. Bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes, until the crust is golden.
Cool completely before filling.

Prepare the filling:

Combine the water, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium-size saucepan. Whisk until fully blended and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisking constantly, cook for 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low.
Remove ½ cup of the cooked mixture and temper it into the egg yolks in a small bowl, whisking constantly until well combined.
It’s essential that you take your time when adding the cooked mixture to the eggs, otherwise they’ll curdle. 
Return the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan on the stove. Whisk in the lemon juice, Limoncello, lemon zest, and butter. Beat until the butter is melted, the mixture is fully combined, and the filling thickens. In order to ensure that the filling sets up properly when cooled, bring to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick, about 3 minutes or so.
Remove the pot from the heat and pour the filling into the prebaked crust.

Prepare the meringue:

Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat the egg whites with the vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff peaks form.

Assemble the pie:

Pile the meringue over the filling, mounding it in the center and covering the filling completely. Make sure you touch the edges of the crust all around, to prevent the meringue from shrinking.
Using the lowest broiler setting of your oven, evenly brown the meringue topping for about 1 minute. Or, if you have one, use a handheld culinary blowtorch.
Place the pie in the refrigerator and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Basic Pie Dough (All-Butter Version)

This all-butter crust is unrivaled in terms of flavor. It’s also quite flaky, despite having no shortening. The secret is to work with very cold butter. I keep all of my butter in the freezer, transferring it to the refrigerator overnight or several hours before I intend to make pie dough. Work quickly, with cold hands on a cool work surface, and you’ll end up with a crust that’s as flaky as it is scrumptious.
Makes: Dough for one double-crust pie

You will need
    2½    cups all-purpose flour
    1¼    teaspoons sea salt
    1    cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
    ¾    cup ice water


Mix the flour and salt together in a medium-large bowl.
Using a pastry blender or two forks, incorporate the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you should still have some rather large bits of butter when you’re done).
Slowly drizzle in the ice water. Stir with a large spoon until the dough begins to clump.
Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and, using your hands, fold it into itself until all of the flour is incorporated into the fats. The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky.
Divide the dough in half, shape it into two balls, and pat each ball into a ½-inch thick disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Proceed according to the pie recipe instructions.


Teresa's picture

Can't wait to try this recipe. Just happen to have some lemoncello waiting patiently to be used.
john's picture

It's delicious... Let us know how it turns out!
james matthews's picture

I used butter instead of shortening and used seven-up instead of water and wow what a flavor. Thanks for the tips.
Katina's picture

I've tried this recipe twice now and both times the lemon did not set. Disappointed it didn't work out, it looks delicious.
meg's picture

Katrina, I'm so sorry this hasn't worked out for you! While I can't speak definitively to why this happened, I can offer a suggestion that may help. Try cooking the custard filling (everything but the butter, zest, and limoncello) over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens. Then stir in the zest, butter, and limoncello. This would be essentially like making lemon curd. Just be sure to whisk without stopping, otherwise the filling might start to scorch on the bottom of the pan. Hope this helps! Sorry again for the disappointments.
Aaron's picture

I hade same problem as Katrina -- made the pie twice, both times it didn't set up. Fortunately my friends were gracious and recognized how tasty it was, even if it was a pudding and not a pie. I checked the recipes for lemon meringue in both the Better Homes and Gardens and New York Times cookbooks. Both were similar to this one, with the primary difference being that both advise cooking the filling after adding the egg yolks. I think BH&G even said to return the filling to a boil. The wording of this here recipe only implies any additional cooking at best. The second time I made this recipe, I attempted to actually cook the mixture after adding the egg yolks, but it still didn't set up. What's wrong? Is it really that the filling must be returned to a boil after song the egg yolks? Or is it something else, like too much liquid for the amount of congealing ingredients or the ethanol in the limoncello is preventing it from seeing up? Is really like to succeed with this recipe. I know it's tasty from the forest two trials and is a great way to finish a summer meal. Also, I must say I love the all-butter crust.
meg's picture

Hi Aaron! I'm so sorry the filling didn't set up. I guess that's the last time I use a guest blogger's recipe without testing it first! Live and learn, I suppose. A quick guess would be that you do actually need to bring the filling to a slight boil. With so much cornstarch, if you cook the filling enough, it has to thicken sooner or later. I would actually cook the filling, stirring constantly, until it visibly thickens. Just make sure not to scorch the filling by cooking it over very high heat, and use a spatula to stir, scraping the corners of the pan. Another idea would be to add 1 1/2 teaspoons of bloomed, powdered gelatin at the end of the cooking--so take the filling off the heat, then whisk in the bloomed gelatin until dissolved. This is "insurance," so you know the filling will set even if the custard itself doesn't thicken. Hope this helps! I'm going to test this recipe asap to figure out what the deal is.
Aaron's picture

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, the gelatin approach had occurred to me, but only after the second failure. I look forward to hearing your test results. This is really tasty pie and I would love to get it right.
meg's picture

Okay, I tested the filling and it did set up. Here's what I did. I cooked the cornstarch/water/sugar mixture for 3 minutes. This made a super thick paste--so thick that I really couldn't pour it into the egg yolks in a slow stream, but I clumsily managed to add some of it to the yolks to temper them. So after adding the egg yolks, lemon juice, and limoncello to the saucepan, I continued to cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it visibly thickened. I would say this took about 3 more minutes. Then, I took it off the heat and poured it into ramekins (I didn't make the whole pie--just the filling to see if it would set) and refrigerated it. It's very thick. I suggest cooking the mixture longer after adding the yolks, lemon juice, and limoncello. It gets very thick if you give it a few minutes. Hope this helps!
Aaron's picture

Thanks again for the feedback. I made the pie a third time, this time successfully. I'll note that I used only lemon juice this time, so it was a little extra tart, and this was delicious!
meg's picture

Great! Glad it finally worked! I'm going to alter the recipe a bit to make sure people know to cook the mixture until it thickens. Happy cooking!
Rachel's picture

I get the best compliments for this pie and love to make it.
Deryk's picture

Why not cook the pie filling in a microwave oven? I have found a microwave to be excellent for making something thicken without the risk of burning as occurs on a stove top.
meg's picture

You could definitely cook it in a microwave. I would try it in short bursts, stirring in between.
Jon's picture

I think there's too many egg yolks and not enough corn starch. I use 3 yolks and 1 cup plus 1 tblspn of cornstarch. The butter and lemon juice go in last, bring to another boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute. Just a thought.
john's picture

Thanks for the suggestions!
Care's picture

Be sure to use a LOWER alcohol content Limoncello! Believe me, it will affect the setting-up if the alcohol is too high content. Avoid home-made limoncello, it is likely very strong.
john's picture

Thanks for the tip!

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