A Mile High Lemon Brown Sugar-Meringue Pie

Lemon meringue pie recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Last week my boys and I drove 5 hours due north to a small town on Lake Superior to get a break from the city. The boys just finished school and I had sent off the first pass pages of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We were all in desperate need of a vacation. Friends of ours have a lovely home on a pristine lake; no planes flying over, no street lights, no cars, just peace and quiet and night skies filled with stars.

On the drive up, once you pass Duluth, the road is dotted with small shops selling smoked fish and all kinds of pies. It is our tradition to stop to buy pepper crusted smoked fish and a pie: cherry, blueberry or lemon meringue pie. When I first moved here 16 years ago my husband and I stayed on the North shore and discovered Betty’s Pies. We happened in one evening for a slice and ended up going back 3 more times in as many days. We still stop there, although they have moved, grown and the pies aren’t quite what they used to be, but the romance is still there for me.

Here is my version of Betty’s Lemon Meringue Pie (made with my rosemary shortbread crust, a bit of lime zest for more zip and a dome of light fluffy Brown Sugar Meringue!)

Graham Cracker Crust (with more than just Graham Crackers)

6 graham crackers

10 rosemary shortbread cookies (or 5 more graham crackers)

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (5 tablespoons if using only graham crackers)

pinch salt

Lemon-lime filling inspired by The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball:

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups cold water

5 egg yolks (reserve whites for the meringue)

2/3 cup lemon juice (and/or lime juice)

1 tablespoon lime zest

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Brown Sugar Meringue by me:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup (about 5 large) egg whites

1/4 teaspoon white vinegar (or cream of tartar)

pinch salt

To make the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the graham crackers and shortbread in a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs. Add the brown sugar and butter and pulse until all of the crumbs are coated with the butter and start to stick together. It will be about 2 cups of crumbs (not packed tight) when finished.

Pressing graham cracker pie crust into pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Place the crumbs in an 8″ pie plate (as measured across the bottom). Spread them out evenly and press them tightly. I use a sheet of plastic wrap to keep the crumbs off my hands, which helps me pack it well.

Pressing graham cracker crust into pie pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Once they are evenly spread, I go along the top edge and get rid of the feathery edges by lightly pressing them down with my finger.

Chill the crust for about 15 minutes and then bake for 15-18 minutes. It will not color, but will set the crust.

Make the filling:

Simmering corn starch, water and sugar in a pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

In a medium saucepan bring to a simmer the sugar, cornstarch, salt and water. Whisk constantly

Simmering corn starch, water and sugar in a pan | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Until the mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent.

Adding egg yolks to sugar water mixture | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Add the egg yolks one at a time and whisk gently to incorporate well. Repeat with the rest of the egg yolks. Continue to whisk until the mixture is quite thick. If it seems to be getting lumpy, remove from heat and whisk gently until smooth.

Adding lemon juice for lemon meringue pie | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Slowly add the lemon juice and zest. Whisk gently.

Adding butter to lemon meringue pie mixture | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Turn off the heat and add the butter. Whisk gently until it is all melted and well incorporated. Cover the pot to keep the filling warm.

Make the Brown Sugar Meringue:

Boiling brown sugar and water | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

In a small saucepan with a Candy Thermometer bring to a boil the brown sugar and water.

Whipping egg whites in stand mixer | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

While the sugar is coming to the temperature of 238-240 degrees, start to whip the egg whites in a stand mixer on low speed. Once the sugar is nearly done turn the speed on the mixer up to medium-high and get the eggs to soft peaks. When the sugar is to temperature, carefully pure it along the side of the mixing bowl into the egg whites, while the mixer is still on medium speed. (Be very careful not to hit the beater or the sugar will splatter!) Once the sugar is all added, turn the mixer to high and let it beat until the meringue is room temperature, shiny and stiff peaks, about 8-10 minutes.

Pouring lemon meringue filling into pie shell | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Pour the warm filling into the pie shell.

Spooning meringue onto lemon meringue pie | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Carefully add the meringue to the top. I use a spoon and drop it on gently. Because you are adding it to the warm filling you need to be very careful or you will disturb the surface of the filling.

Lemon meringue pie recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Once you have half of the meringue on the pie, use a spatula and very gently spread the meringue over the whole surface, all the way to the crust.

Lemon meringue pie recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Add the rest of the meringue and use the spatula to create the spikes on the top.

Lemon meringue pie recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Use a propane torch (or the smaller Butane Micro Torch used for cooking) to toast the top of the pie. Let the pie set for at least an hour at room temperature or refrigerate before serving or the filling will be too soft to cut.

*If you don’t have a torch, which I think does the best job, try toasting the meringue under the broiler. After a couple of people reported back that baking it to toast was making the meringue weep, I consulted many sources and found that the broiler is the next best thing to a torch! Just watch it carefully and turn frequently to get an even color.

Lemon meringue pie recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Slice the pie with a thin bladed knife that has been dipped in hot water and dried.


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53 thoughts to “A Mile High Lemon Brown Sugar-Meringue Pie”

  1. My friends are huge lemon meringue pie fans. They are going to love me when I make this for them. Thanks, Zoe. You are a rock star!….and bad for my diet. 🙂

  2. Oh gosh, I remember Betty’s Pies from a trip up North to go camping a few years back. Mmm, fruit pies… This looks wonderful, I’m looking forward to trying it.

  3. I have such happy memories of going with my mother to this local place, Goldenrod, for lemon meringue pie. Yours looks even better than the pie I remember!

  4. I can’t wait to try this! I was in the middle of a work project… in very deep thought… when I decided to take a break and check Facebook.. and there is your post… now I’m totally distracted by thoughts of pie!!! This is a work of art!

  5. Looks fantastic! I have never tried cooking the meringue with a torch and love how dark the peaks get – nice contrast with the white merinque. I still enjoy the wild blueberry pies from Betty’s – but don’t bother with her cookbook. It’s the same recipes as the back of a cool whip container. Nice to have routines though!

  6. I’m so pleased that so many of you have been to Betty’s pies and know the lore of the place! It is inspiring!

    Hey Dragon, Sorry to mess up your diet! 😉

    Laura, didn’t mean to interrupt your work!

    Scate, the blueberry is our favorite as well! I like my lemon meringue better with the brown sugar topping! 🙂

    Thanks, Zoë

  7. First the compliments. Your pie looks stunning!!! I’ve never had brown sugar meringue and I’m definitely going to try this.
    Now for the questions. Sadly, I don’t own a torch. Can I brown it in the oven?
    When you add the brown sugar mixture to the egg whites do you keep the mixer running or shut it off?
    We’ve had Betty’s Pie too!! We also love the Blueberry. One time when we were there, we swear they had wild blueberries in the pie! Mmmmm!

  8. Hi Sue,

    You can bake the pie for about 15 minutes at about 325 degrees. I find that the meringue doesn’t get the same dramatic coloring as you will with a blow torch, but it is still very tasty!

    You keep the mixer running on medium speed while you add the hot syrup. Be careful to let it go against the bowl and not hit the beaters or it will splatter.

    The blueberry pie is wonderful!!!

    Enjoy! Zoë

  9. Delish! I love the idea of rosemary in your crust- and while I have never made a brown sugar meringue, I am going to try it next pie I make. Good photos too.

  10. Holy moly! I want to go home and make this right now. I love lemon anything, but even more so when it’s got meringue on top. Thanks so much, Zoe!

  11. Zoe,

    I made this earlier today. The crust was perfect, the filling quite tasty, the meringue fluffy and glossy. That’s where they beauty ended.

    I read your comment about baking it at 325 for 15 minutes so I chose that option since I didn’t have a torch. The meringue seemed to be floating on the filling, and the crust looked like it had wet spots in it. After sitting out 2 hours on the counter top, the pie never set. I took the meringue off the pie and noticed the filling was water logged. I absorbed as much moisture as I could with a paper towel and stuck it in the fridge. I don’t know if it will set up or not, but I am so disappointed. This was supposed to have been for my FIL for Father’s Day but it doesn’t look promising.

    Do you think that baking it is where I went wrong? I followed everything to a T.

    Any suggestions, recommendations or comments will be greatly appreciated.

    Monica H

  12. Hi Monica,

    Sue from above had the same issue. I’m sorry that the baking of the meringue didn’t work. I consulted a couple of different books that I trust (Christoper Kimball and Rose Levy Beranbaum and they both use this baking technique. I have to say that the pies they show using it have lack luster meringue topping and I suspect it is the baking that causes it!)

    I have always used a torch to achieve the look I want with the meringue. I will make another pie and try various options. I have often heard of people using the broiler, but I fear that you may have the same weeping of the meringue that you get in the oven.

    Thank you for letting me know, I’ll keep you posted on what I find out!


  13. Wow! Very dramatic meringue. I’ll have to try this (with the torch!) but I’ll have to keep it a secret so my mom doesn’t find out I didn’t use her recipe.

    Thanks for the tip!

  14. I had the same weepy problem as Monica – I was so sad! But, I brought it to the father’s day feast anyhow (the meringue still looked and tasted amazing) and everyone raved about it… it just didn’t slice up very pretty 😉 I am glad to hear it wasn’t just me! My grandma chalked it up to the wicked humidity we are having here in Wisconsin.

  15. I think I’ll definitely try this pie again but I definitely will not out it in the oven. Maybe with whipped cream, unless I get a torch.

    The pie went down the disposal, completely not servable 🙁

  16. Hi Monica,

    Did the filling also fall apart in the oven? Although I didn’t end up baking mine, it is exactly how they suggested doing it in Cooks Illustrated. I find it so disappointing that you had such trouble. ;(

    The torch is definitely the way to go and a lot of fun for so many other uses! There are varieties at Home Depot that are not too expensive too.

    BTW the filling will be very tasty with whipped cream.


  17. Zoe,

    At first I thought it was just the meringue that was weepy, but it almost seeped into the filling and made it watery. it didn’t set up at all.

    Like I said, I will try this again though because the filling was so tasty.

  18. Beautiful pie! I made this today and for some reason the filling didn’t set-up completely. The pie and meringue are very tasty, but I need to serve this in bowls with spoons. Maybe I didn’t cook the yolks enough? I didn’t want to cook them too long and end up with scrambled eggs. Any suggestions? I used a torch on the meringue then let the pie cool completely followed by a couple of hours in the fridge before serving.

  19. Hi Janice,

    Was the mixture very thick before you added the yolks? It should look like thick pudding when it is finished cooking, both before the yolks are added and after. It will actually set up to be quite thick, once it is cool.

    Because of all of the cornstarch in the recipe, the yolks can withstand much more heat than you might expect. Having said this, you want to whisk it constantly, but gently.

    Thanks, Zoë

  20. It was thick, but not like thick pudding. Next time I’ll cook the yolks more. The filling didn’t run to the empty spot where we took out the pieces, so it’s set somewhat. I think I was really close, but just didn’t take it quite far enough. Thanks Zoe.

  21. We’ve not yet actually tasted the pie – I just broke in my new torch to do the meringue – but kudos for the best meringue recipe ever. I loved how quickly and easily the brown sugar came to temperature, and how yummy the meringue was. I wish I’d had time to make the rosemary shortbread for the crust, but will do in the future. And, I’ll post a link back once I blog about making this. I have very high hopes – as high as my meringue!

  22. I made this recipe last year for Thanksgiving it was a total hit!!! Getting ready to start baking tomorrow, I’ve had several requests to bake it again… This recipe now has a permanent spot in my Thanksgiving recipes. Thanks! (OH, and quick tip; make sure, if your meringue was as high as mine was, you have plenty of space in the oven for broiling… my first attempt caught on fire being so close to the top of the oven ha!)

    1. Hi Whitney,

      Wow, I am so glad you were willing to try it again after the first one caught on fire! 😉

      Cheers and happy Thanksgiving! Zoë

  23. Hello Zoe,
    Okay so I made my first lemon meringue pie yesterday. Like I tend to do, I tried to make the recipe my own, and used ALL fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of water (I wanted a strong lemon flavor-but no zest in my pie). The pie was so metallic tasting. You are a pro and know this pie better than I do, so tell me please where did that taste come from? I thought maybe the metal fork I used to temper the yolks, but I see in your pictures you’re using a metal whisk (I used plastic). So, can you please help me? Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Nia,

      That is a tremendous amount of acid, so it may be reacting to either your fork or the pot you are cooking it in. It could also just be the acid of the lemons, which can produce that sensation if you just lick a lemon. Since you more than doubled the amount of lemon juice it will really throw off the flavors and you’ll need to balance with more sugar, but I would really suggest you do at least 50% water or the flavor will be over powering.

      Hope this helps! Zoë

  24. Ohhhhh Zoe! Thank you so very much. I will absolutely try your suggestions, as I so want to make a successful version of this pie. Can’t wait to try again!

  25. Hi, could you please let me know when the Vinegar (cream of tartar) and pinch of salt get added to the meringue mix. I can’t seem to find it in the instructions.

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