5 August 2011

A Classic Lemon Meringue Pie from Irma S. Rombauer and The Joy of Cooking

Lemon Meringue Pie

Accordng to their website, "Seventy-five years ago, a St. Louis widow named Irma von Starkloff Rombauer took her life savings and self-published a book called The Joy of Cooking. With very little cooking experience recipes were given to her from her friends and family and she created the very first Joy of Cooking in 1931 with the small insurance payout she received after her husband committed suicide during the Great Depression. Her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker tested recipes and made the illustrations, and they sold their mother-daughter project from Irma's apartment. Suddenly, society wives who used to enjoy a kitchen staff no longer had the money to employ them and began cooking for themselves. The instruction "stand facing the stove" was a bit more pragmatic than we realize. In 1936, the first commercial edition was published."

It is one of the world's most-published cookbooks, having been in print continuously since it's first edition. Today, nine revisions later, the Joy of Cooking has taught tens of millions of people to cook, answered countless kitchen and food questions, and averted many a cooking crisis in my own kitchen as well.

 Gourmet Live brought out a list of the 50 most influential women in food...Fifty women game changers. Some are chefs, some are food writers, and some are women who are passionate about the creative process. You could certainly add or detract women from this list, but no matter what these women have all influenced us in one way or another. Being a woman and passionate about food myself I wanted to explore and join Mary on this journey and not only learn from the masters but recreate some of their dishes to better understand what has shaped and molded them into who they are today. In doing so I have learned more about myself, and have learned more than a few new recipes and techniques. Follow us on this journey while we take an in depth exploration of these women's lives and what has made them who they are.

Number 9 on the list is Irma S. Rombauer.

One of my favourite well-travelled bloggers Mary of One Perfect Bite invited bloggers to travel along on a culinary journey throughout the year. For 50 weeks we will experiment with dishes from each of the 50 influential women on "the list". Whether you agree or disagree with the authors chosen fifty and their order it will be an enjoyable and creative outlet to cook from the masters. My cohorts for this adventure can be found below. If you would like to join in  please contact Mary. This is an informal event and you have the flexibility to follow along when you can. She will be posting every Friday.

I’ve owned several editions of Joy of Cooking over the years. It’s always the bible that I refer back to when I have a question about anything. So when it came down to what I would make from Irma's vast collection it was an easy choice before I headed into the kitchen. I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago and I knew without a question that the Joy of Cooking would have the perfect, reliable recipe for a Lemon Meringue Pie to celebrate. They have a new Lemon Meringue Tart  on their site that sounds amazing but I wanted a good old-fashioned meringue pie with a  tangy lemon filling and a luscious, hand-spread layer of soft meringue that would remind me of my childhood. The meringue pies of my fragile memories are of of my mom making lemon meringue pie in the kitchen with Tenderflake lard for the crust and Shirriff mix for the filling. Not exactly what I had in mind for todays lesson but I will always be amazed  that clear, viscous egg white can be whipped into weightless piles of fluffy clouds to top my pies.

This celebratory pie had the ultimate flaky pastry and tangy lemon filling that I remember from my childhood all under a dazzling cloud of fluffy meringue that's either swirled into a spiral or puffed into peaks. If anything could be said about this recipe is that it is a bit too sweet for my liking so I am still in search of the perfect filling. If you have it please send a link! What I have alwats loved about this dessert, besides the fact that it comes together easily, is that it is not wasteful. You use 4 egg yolks and 4 egg whites so nothing is left to accumulate in your fridge.  In one word - perfection!

 What did I learn: Use a cornstarch paste to stabilize your meringues and prevent them from weeping and suffering separation anxiety. The pie lasted for several days in the refrigerator. It may have lasted longer...but we will never know since it was devoured almost instantly.

 What have we been up to:

Back to The Future

Over four years of blogging I have found many wonderful recipes to share on these pages. Some from my own kitchen, some from your creative blogs and web sites, and some from well known celebrities and chefs. I have been feeling a little nostalgic and was browsing these very pages just the other day, creeping back to the very beginning in 2006 when More Than Burnt Toast was in it's infancy and no more than "knee high to grasshopper". We all have those stellar recipes from when we first started when we were lucky enough to find one comment and have maybe one reader; in my case even before I was taking photos of the dishes I prepared. My other motivation for reconnecting with the past is to create uniform formatting on this blog and this is a fun way for me to revisit past posts.

So here are a couple of flashback recipes from the very first baby steps here at MTBT with...

**Lemon Meringue Pie**

As with any baking recipe read all of the instructions first. You will notice that after reading the entire procedure below that the first thing you want to do after browning the pastry crust is to make the cornstarch paste for the meringue, then you can move on to the filling and finish with completing the meringue. This ensures that your pie filling is still piping hot in the crust when you top it with the meringue just before the final baking step. This prevents all weeping and separation anxieties of meringue.

The Lemon Filling

Ingredients for the filling
  • 1 9-inch pie crust
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cold water
  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (3 large. lemons)
  • 4 each large egg yolks, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water
  • 1 teaspoons lemon zest, grated
Procedure steps for filling

1. Using a fork poke holes in the sides and bottom of the crust every few inches or so to allow air to escape while baking, thus preventing the crust from bubbling. Bake the crust in a 425° F oven for 20 minutes or until evenly browned. Remove and cool the crust. Turn oven temperature down to 350° F. (Now go to step 1 in the meringue section below.)

2. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a 2-3 quart saucepan.

3. Gradually blend in until smooth the cold water and fresh lemon juice.

4. Add the egg yolks and blend thoroughly then add the butter and fold in stirring constantly.

5. While stirring gently slowly add the boiling water. Bring to a boil and allow thickening slightly, reducing the heat to very low and simmering slowly for 1 minute.

6. Fold in the lemon zest then pour into the baked pie shell.

7. Spread the meringue (see recipe below) onto the outside edges and anchoring it to the crust and filling, then working toward the center with the remaining meringue. Use a rubber spatula to create peaks throughout the top of the meringue. Bake for 20 minutes in the 350° F oven or until meringue peaks are golden brown.

8. Cool completely on a rack and then serve or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

The Meringue

Because stabilization is achieved with the cornstarch paste, this meringue topping will not weep, leak, or deflate, even when refrigerated for several days. Since the pie filling should be piping hot when the meringue is added, measure out and prepare the cornstarch paste in step 1 below before embarking on the filling recipe above.

Ingredients for the meringue
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 each large egg whites, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup sugar, preferably superfine
Procedure steps for meringue

1. Mix the cornstarch and sugar in a small saucepan, then add the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Using a wire whisk stir briskly and boil for 15 seconds. Remove the thick paste from the heat and cover. (Now go ahead and start the filling in step 2 from the top section of this recipe.)

2. In a clean and grease-free mixing bowl add the room temperature egg whites and beat until foamy.

3. Add the vanilla and cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form.

4. Slowly and gradually add the sugar and beat in well on high speed until very stiff and glossy but not dry.

5. Reduce the mixer speed to very slow and add the cornstarch paste 1 tablespoon at a time. When the paste is incorporated increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for another 10 to 15 seconds.

6. Spread over hot pie filling as described in step 7 from the section above.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. I loved this post. There is not a soul around who hasn't heard of The Joy of Cooking. Beautiful classic pie

  2. That is one of my favorite pies. Yours looks just so irresistible and divine.



  3. Hi Val! What a good choice! We all love good old lemon meringue pie. I was intrigued by the tip re the cornstarch and can't wait to see if it really works ie no weeping round the edges!

  4. It looks perfect~Always impressed at how much care you put into your posts.~

  5. The cornstarch really does work Claudia. I kept one piece and even after 3 days it had not weeped or separated. Alas I had to eat the last piece.

  6. Great job on the lemon meringue!

    I looked at your old posts. It's interesting that you included photoa, but not of the recipe. I don't think that's something we could do today. With so many food blogs for readers, you've got to capture their interest with a visual of the dish...don't you think?

  7. In todays blogging world it is so true Joan, but in the beginning my blog was for me and my family and a catalogue of dishes from my travels. It made sense to have photos of sundappled houses on Greek islands and photos of the British Columbia coast more than food.

  8. What a classic pie! That's what I love about The Joy of Cooking ... all the basics are there plus the fancier stuff and good solid information on 'how to ..' !

  9. Wow, that is one beautiful pie and I am so impressed with your meringue! I had no idea about the cornstarch paste. I always stay away from pies with meringue, but you have me wanting to make one now. Thank you for the tip!

  10. Interesting facts! It was my first cook book as a young bride, 32 years ago!!

  11. Every time I get stumped on anything in the kitchen, my husband always says, "Have you looked it up in Mrs. Rombauer?" I have several copies of Joy of Cooking, one of which was my husband's mothers copy when she was first married.

    Lovely pie. I've never attempted meringue. For some reason I get cold feet. Thanks for the tip on weeping and separation.

  12. I love this post dear Valli, I have to say lemon pie is our favorite pie so far!! Specially for my kids, have a nice weekend, gloria

  13. I love fruit pies, but I just can't get into lemon meringue.

  14. that pie looks like utter perfection... we have a local food fete coming up and maybe I should steal this recipe from you and follow it step by step x

  15. Perfect birthday pie! The history of the Joy of Cooking really is quite impressive.

  16. What a thoughtful post in honor of Irma S. Rombauer, and a gorgeous Lemon Meringue Pie to celebrate her and your birthday by!

  17. That is quite a list to work through and it is going to be fun. Love the lemon meringue pie.

  18. What an interesting story about The Joy of Cooking and Irma Rombauer and what a beautiful pie! It is very interesting that so many women found themselves suddenly facing the stove ;)

  19. Now that may be one of THE most gorgeous pies I've ever seen in my life! I have never made a lemon meringue pie...I've always been intimidated by it...but when I do, it will be THIS recipe that I try. Gorgeous :D

  20. If I could pick my favorite pie it would be this one. Since I was a little girl LM would faciname me. I thought it was a work of art. You did it justice.

  21. To be honest, Val, lemon meringue pie is the true test of a home cook. The crust (which has to be flaky), the filling (which has to be a bit tart) and the meringue (which has to be perfectly browned, must all meld together for the perfect mouthful. It's my sister's favorite pie and I have my mother's recipe. It uses cornstarch too.

  22. great post! I LOVE lemon meringue pie. I am always amazed at those who rip open a box of sherrif pie filling when the classic version is so easy to make and tastes so wonderful!

    I confess that I always double the meringue - you can't have enough of that.

    Have a good weekend.

  23. You chose the perfect recipe from The Joy of Cooking. It looks beautiful. I also enjoyed the Judith Jones post you did because that was the very recipe for potatoes that I wanted to make again. I saw it when I use perusing her new book in a book store. I did not buy the book but thought I remembered the recipe and attempted it when I got home. It was a failure. Now I can make it the right way. Thanks Val. I am enjoying these Fridays with all of you.

  24. That is such a delightful story about how Irma wrote the Joy of Cooking! I hadn't heard that before, and it was delightful to read it on your blog. The pie looks fabulous!

  25. You have inspired me to pull out my old dog eared paperback version of JOC! GREG

  26. has it been 4 years already since I have been reading your culinary adventures? I am not sure if I ever told you, but you have been one of my regular reads since I began many moons ago.

    This pie? Amazing. You can never go wrong with an Irma recipe. Love love love lemon meringue.

  27. look at that sturdy consistency--well done! your meringue is perfect too. woeful is the chef who makes a weepy meringue. :)

  28. Hi Val - sounds like a wonderful event.
    Your pie looks perfect.
    I have hundreds of cookbooks, but not the Joy of Cooking. Duh? That book should definitely be in my collection.
    Very interested to see who else is on the list.

  29. I haven't made this classic recipe in ages! Who doesn't love lemon meringue pie? The Joy of Cooking is something I've owned for decades. It's a wonderful cookbook. So glad you featured this pie, which you did a fantastic job with.

  30. The lemon meringue pie looks so gorgeous!

  31. Beautiful pie! I love The Joy of Cooking. It's one of my "go to" cookbooks. Happy blog birthday!!

  32. looks and probably tastes fantastic


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