Letters on the subject of lemon meringue pie suggest that people have problems with both the pastry and the meringue. The first thing to do, therefore, is to make sure the pastry shell is baked blind until it is really crisp. This can take longer than some recipes suggest.
First make the pastry shell: leave the butter dice on a plate to soften. Sift the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl, then rub the butter in with your fingers to achieve a crumb consistency. Whisk the egg and add, working in gently with the lemon zest, to form a ball of dough. Cling-wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
After removing from the fridge, leave the dough at room temperature for 5–10 minutes before rolling out and using to line a
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/ gas 4. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and weight this with dry beans or invest in those ceramic weights which have the advantage of never needing replacing and not filling the house with an unpleasant smell which the dried beans give off after a few goes in the oven. Bake for 10–12 minutes, then remove the beans and paper, and return to the oven for a further 10–12 minutes, when the centre should be golden brown. Remove and allow to cool in the tin on a rack. Keep the oven on at the same setting.
Make the filling: whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and reserve. In a pan, whisk the caster sugar, cornflour and salt into the milk. Bring to the boil over a moderate heat, whisking. As it thickens, remove it from the heat and whisk a few spoonfuls into the yolks, then whisk this amalgamation back into the pan. Lower the heat to a minimum and return the pan to it, whisking, for 4 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the lemon zest and juice, and the butter. When the butter has melted and is fully incorporated, cover the surface with cling-film and reserve.
Make the meringue (it should have a crisp surface but a soft interior, so it needs to be cooked quite quickly): in a glass or metal bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar to soft peaks. Whisk in the caster sugar, adding it in a steady stream, and continue to whisk until it holds in stiff peaks.
Pour and scrape the filling into the tart shell, then cover with the meringue, making sure it goes right to the rim of the pastry. Bake for 15-20 minutes, when the surface of the meringue will be crisp and nicely coloured. Transfer to a rack and leave to cool completely before cutting.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.