Three Lemons: A Pie In Reverse (Crisp Meringue Crust Filled With Lemon Custard)

A little over a year ago, my husband gave me a potted lemon tree for my birthday.  He’d long known how much I’d loved lemons.  (He’d also seen how jealous I’d been of our neighbors, whose prolific trees I’d pass on my route to the grocery store, grumbling.)  After readily watching my tree ever since, I was thrilled to pick its first fruits a few weeks ago: three beautiful, succulent lemons.  Intent on turning them into something unusual that would really let their flavor shine, I began to brainstorm.  Traditional lemon meringue pie felt too commonplace, while a lemon tart seemed quite plain.  Then it hit me: rich, creamy lemon curd in a crust made of crisp meringue!

Reverse Lemon Meringue Pie (makes a 9” pie; serves 8-10)

 For the crisp meringue crust:

  • 3 egg whites at room temperature (reserve yolks for filling; see below)
  • Scant ¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • Scraped seeds from ½ vanilla bean pod or a few drops vanilla bean paste

Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to line a 9” pie pan with at least ¾” overhang on all sides.*  Butter a 9” pie pan, then press parchment into it, evenly placed. Generously butter the parchment.  Preheat oven to 250 F.  Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites on high until white and foamy.  Gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar and the vanilla, and keep beating until thick, shiny, opaque and stiff – about 5 minutes.  Spread the meringue evenly into the prepared pie pan (about 1/3 to 1/2” thick).  If desired, use a pastry bag to pipe meringue around edges, or make a freeform border using a spatula; it’s just as pretty.  Bake for an hour and 45 minutes, then turn off oven.  Leave crust in oven for another hour, then remove and carefully lift crust from pan by pulling up parchment.  Gently peel the parchment from the back of the crust, then return crust to pan.  It will be delicate and light, browned and fragrant with caramelized sugar. Cover and keep away from moisture at room temperature until ready to use (up to 24 hours).

For the lemon curd filling:

  • 3 medium lemons
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2-3 dashes salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon oil

In a medium saucepan, bring 2-3 inches water to a simmer over low heat.  Meanwhile, finely zest the lemons, then juice them to make 1/3 cup lemon juice with seeds removed.  In a heat-proof bowl sized to sit over the saucepan without dipping into the water, whisk the measured lemon juice, zest, eggs, yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt (if using).  Set bowl over water and whisk constantly for about 10 minutes or until thickened and custardy, about the consistency of sour cream (it will stiffen more once chilled).  Remove from heat and keep whisking for a few minutes while bowl cools a bit.  Add oil (if using), then butter in two portions, whisking until completely incorporated.**  Cover tightly and chill until set and thoroughly cool, about 2 hours.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use (up to 48 hours).

When ready to serve the pie, spread chilled filling into crust.  If desired, decorate with powdered sugar, berries and mint leaves.  Without delay, slice with a sharp knife (don’t fret if the crust cracks a bit), and devour immediately, savoring every luscious bite. To balance the pie’s tart-sweetness, try serving each slice with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche and a handful of fresh berries.

With its crispy shell and creamy, tart center, this unique pie is refreshing in both flavor and texture.  Its unique vanilla crust is full of caramelized flavor, and each sweet bite is both rich and light at once — while bursting with bright citrus notes.  Lemon meringue pie in reverse — who knew it could be so wondrous?

Maybe next time…  A generous handful of crushed macadamia nuts or unsweetened coconut would be divine folded into the meringue before baking.  Likewise, the crust can be made thicker by adding more volume via another egg white.  For a creamier, more decadent version that will mellow the pie’s sweet and tart flavors, spread a layer of soft cream cheese or mascarpone beneath the lemon curd.  To evoke the absent traditional crust, top with crumbles of shortbread or gingersnaps before serving (but if you want to keep the pie gluten-free, be sure to use cookies that are, too).

*You may have noticed the lack of parchment in my photos.  While I was able to remove each slice from my pan without using parchment, it required a meticulous process.  Since then, I’ve tested a few more meringue crust methods, and I strongly suggest the parchment/butter lining (and will be using it myself from now on).

**If desired, push filling through a sieve after adding butter.  This step is usually suggested for lemon curd; it makes it smoother by removing the zest and any bits of egg that might not have integrated when whisked. However, I successfully skipped this step, getting more texture and tang, and I found that my eggs were completely incorporated.

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17 Responses to Three Lemons: A Pie In Reverse (Crisp Meringue Crust Filled With Lemon Custard)

  1. Pingback: Introducing Cranberry Curd: Lemon Curd’s Comely Cousin | butter, sugar, flowers

  2. thehungrymum says:

    I love lemon desserts. This is making me very hungry 🙂

  3. katy says:

    I think we now know we both share a love of lemon. This is so pretty and I’m sure it smells as good as it tastes (for me, half the fun of citrus is its scent); I love your polka-dotted plates, too!

    When I walk by the many lemon trees in Berkeley, I always regret that the yard in our apartment building doesn’t have one; the idea of a potted lemon tree really intrigues me! I’ll have to drop a few hints to Kostas. 🙂

    • Thanks, Katy! I agree about the scent of citrus: it’s a bit part of the joy. Having a potted tree has been fun and it’s very pretty, though I am (greedily) still thinking of planting it in the ground, in hopes of getting more and more lemons each year. We’ll see!

  4. Lilly Sue says:

    This pie looks SOOOO cute!! And of course, delicious!! 😀

  5. That is truly a work of art! I had no idea that you could grow lemon trees in pots – would they do okay indoors in a sunny location do you think? The mint leaves & strawberry look beautiful on top. As always, you have the eye for details.

    • Thank you, Diane! One of the things that keeps me from baking more pies (than cakes and cookies) is that they aren’t as fun or easy to decorate, so I was really happy to figure out a way to use a pastry bag for this one!
      I have been putting off planting my lemon tree in the ground, which I think would let it get much bigger, but it’s doing quite well in the pot outside. I did see an article on indoor lemon trees in magazine once, so it’s surely a possibility. Good lighting and occasional fertilizer are probably key.
      Thanks again for your sweet comment.

  6. Johanna Yegge says:

    Hi Moriah, I cc’d this to my friend, Shannon. Remember the teal hoodie you gave me about a year ago? I brought it to a (very successful) clothing exchange a couple of months ago. My friend, Shannon, took it home and wears it for baking (she is a cupcake queen in her free time, engineer by day.) So the legacy of the hoodie continues…in baking! Love, Johanna

    • Johanna! Thanks so much for telling me. I am so happy to know that the hoodie lives on in a cupcake queen’s kitchen! Hooray for clothing exchanges and for making the world sweeter in our free time!

  7. Beautiful! And how fun to make it from the first fruits of your own tree! I really like how well you photographed it. I’m pinning this to my gluten-free board.

  8. krugthethinker says:

    What an amazing idea! I am hopeless at meringue myself, so it is especially impressive to see it deployed successfully as crust! And congratulations on your first lemons! There’s nothing like watching something grow…and then being able to eat it! 🙂

    • Thanks, Cameron! I don’t believe you’re hopeless at meringue; my experience is that meringue is moody and has a mind of its own. But I am definitely hopeless at gardening, so I did really appreciate being able to use fruit I watched grow. Now if I could just muster the courage to transplant my tree into the ground…

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