Lemon meringue pie is not unique to South Africa, but it is a much loved South African favourite found in every coffee shop from Albertinia to Zeerust and everywhere in between. And what’s not to love? Light, puffy meringue with a slightly crunchy top, sweet and tart curd filling and buttery biscuit base or pasty to hold it all together.
Here are my top tips for perfecting this much loved staple…
The perfect crust
For some, a sweet shortcrust pastry base is preferable, but the traditional South African base is a biscuit base, and don’t try and tell me different! To make a biscuit base, bash up your choice of biscuits (top choices are Tennis Biscuits, Marie Biscuits or plain Digestive biscuits) and mix with melted butter.
Bashing can be done in the food processor or place your biscuits in a bag, tie the top tightly and get bashing with a rolling pin. Once the biscuits are reduced to crumbs, add in 2 Tbs of melted butter per pack of biscuits (200g usually).
Choosing a tin or pie dish
Lemon meringue can be made in a Springform tin or in a pie dish. Springform tins should be lined with baking paper at the bottom, so that when removing it from the tin, you can simply slide it off onto your plate to serve. Baking may take a little longer in a glass pie dish as it is insulated so adjust cooking times accordingly.
Springform top tip
Springform tins have two parts – that bottom/base and the side part which looks like a large ring. The bottom fits into a groove that runs around the metal ring, and the spring tightens the ring and there is a clip that holds it all in place.
When assembling the Springform tin, make sure that the lip of the bottom (that fits into the groove) is facing downwards. It might seem like it is upside down, but when it comes to sliding your cakes and tarts off the base it will be a lot easier as you won’t have to dig down and then under to remove the item from the base. Instead, just slide a palette knife flat along the surface of the base of the tin and it should slide off.
Oranges and lemons?
Lemons are traditional, and it wouldn’t be a lemon meringue pie if it was flavoured with another fruit, but don’t be afraid to play around with different flavours. Substitute lemon zest and juice or orange, lime, naartjie, or granadilla pulp.
Curd or condensed milk?
In South Africa the traditional filling is made with condensed milk, egg yolk and the lemon juice and zest, instead of making a separate curd and then adding it to the prepared base, cutting out the step of heating and cooking the sugar, butter, yolks and lemon juice separately. Save time and get creative by using ready-made fruit curds and simply adding a meringue topping.
Magic of meringue
To make the meringue, whip the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, until they form firm peaks. Add the castor sugar a little at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Top the lemon filling with the meringue either by piping it on, or simply scooping large billows on top of the filling. The more peaks you have the more crispy bits you will get.
Baking and crisping the pie
An ordinary meringue would be baked on a low heat for a long time to dry it out, but for the pie, bake at a higher temperature for a shorter time, to prevent the filling from over-cooking. This should result in a soft, foamy texture inside the meringue and a crisp outer crust. The crust can be crisped further (if desired) by placing it under the grill for a few minutes or using a blowtorch.
Storage and the problem of weeping
Once the pie has cooled store it in the fridge. A common problem with meringue pies is the weeping of sugary syrup. This is caused by the sugar in the meringue drawing out water from the filling and creating a syrup. To combat this problem, try adding a tsp of corn flour to the filling (to bind the liquid better) or using a cooked meringue (like and Italian or Swiss meringue) on top.
Now off you go to make your own luscious lemon meringue pie!