This easy lemon meringue tart has a thick, buttery pie crust, decadent lemon curd filling, and a light and airy meringue topping.
Lemon meringue pie is my mom's all-time favorite dessert. She used to request it for every single Mother's Day and birthday while I was growing up.
We don't live close to a bakery that offers this treat, so I needed to learn to make it myself. At first, I assumed it would be complicated, but it turns out this is a brilliant make-ahead dessert.
You can prep the three main elements separately:
- Buttery Pie Crust
- Lemon Curd Filling
- Fluffly Meringue Topping
Be sure to check my make-ahead tips for notes on how to prepare it for your party.
This elegant lemon tart truly has a very short list of ingredients, you'll just need a lot of each of them:
- Fresh lemons: Do not attempt to use bottled lemon juice for this recipe, take the time to squeeze fresh lemons instead. The flavor will be significantly better.
- Cream of tartar
Be sure to check the recipe card for quantities.
Make the Pie Crust
If you've only ever used prepared pie crust from the store, you'll be surprised at just how easy the crust for this tart actually is to prepare.
It is a much thicker base than the thing pie crust doughs that come rolled up in the fridge boxes. It has a heartier texture and holds up well for slicing and serving your tart.
The dough is made right in a food processor. Pulse the butter and flour together until the flour is cut through and the butter is in small pieces (Fig. 2 below).
Then with the machine running, pour in the ice water until the dough forms a ball. (Fig 4 above.)
Gather the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 4 hours.
Roll the dough on a well floured surface and transfer it to a tart pan with a removable bottom.
Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork to help steam escape. Then butter a piece of aluminum foil and place it butter side down onto the dough. Fill the foil with rice or beans and bake for 10 minutes at 375°F.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully pull the edges of the foil towards the center. Carefully lift the foil from the tart shell so that the rice doesn't fall into your dough.
Return the tart shell to the oven for an additional 15 - 20 minutes or until it is a light golden brown.
Let the shell cool completely before filling with the lemon curd.
Make the Fresh Lemon Curd
The real winning part of this recipe is that golden yellow sugary goodness that is the lemon center of the tart. Oh. My. Goodness. I couldn't stop licking my spatula.
This is the most delicious lemon curd/pie filling have ever tasted in my life. It would be worth making just to eat by the spoonful like pudding.
You start by creaming the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing between each one. Then add the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt and mix. Don't worry, it will appear curdled.
Transfer the mixture to a sauce pan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly.
The mixture will begin to smooth out and then begin to thicken. Once it starts to thicken, use a whisk to stir it briskly. Cook for another 2 minutes or until it reads 175°F on an instant read thermometer.
Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.
For more information and delicious ideas for using it beyond this tart recipe, be sure to see my full lemon curd recipe here.
Make the Meringue
Once your tart shell is baked and the lemon curd is cooled, you're ready for the final step--making the meringue topping.
Working with room temperature egg whites, whisk them with the cream of tartar and salt until frothy.
Add the sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are glossy and form stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.
Use a large gallon-sized plastic zip top bag with a corner snipped off for your pastry bag. Fit it with a large star piping tip.
I love this trick because you can fit the entire batch of meringue in just the one bag.
Gently pipe the meringue in a concentric circles pattern over the entire surface of the lemon curd.
Bake the tart for 3 - 5 minutes at 425°F until the meringue is lightly toasted on the top.
Chill for several hours up to a day ahead before serving.
Important Tip on Meringue
One last helpful tip: To avoid having too-dark tips on your meringue topping, I recommend avoiding pointy peaks with your piped meringue. They cook faster than the rest of the meringue and can get very dark, very quickly.
When that happened to me, I just pinched off the worst of each peak and it was fine, but I've learned to just leave a pretty swirl minus little spiky tipped peaks.
Make Ahead Tips
If you plan to make this dessert ahead of time to save stress on the day you plan to serve it, I recommend a few key tips.
For a Fluffier Meringue
If you want your lemon tart to have a very light and airy texture, store the crust and filling separately after making them the day before.
You can keep the crust at room temperature or cover it and keep it in the fridge. Store the lemon curd in an airtight container in the fridge.
Assemble the tart and whip up the meringue in the morning on the day of your party so everything is fresh but plan for 4 hours of chilling before serving.
For a Firmer Meringue
If you don't mind your meringue having a firmer, slightly chewier texture, you can absolutely assemble the whole lemon tart the day before and leave it in the fridge to keep cold.
My family definitely prefers a little bit firmer of a tart and I think it is way more delicious cold right out of the fridge rather than room temperature.
Since this tart is even better after having sat in the fridge overnight, it will definitely be gracing our table again. It is one of the more perfect make-ahead desserts I've found.
If you really love meringue desserts, you will also love this Baked Alaska recipe.
More Fruit Desserts
Lemon Meringue Tart
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter softened
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- 4 extra large eggs
- 3 extra large egg yolks save the whites for the meringue
- ¼ cup lemon zest from 6 - 8 lemons
- ½ cup lemon juice
- ⅓ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Pie Crust
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons COLD butter diced
- 2 tablespoons COLD Crisco
- ¼ cup ice water
For the meringue topping:
- 4 extra large egg whites at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar
For the Lemon Curd:
- Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 1 minute. On low speed, add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, and then add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Don't worry, it will look curdled.
- Pour the mixture into a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until thick, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Whisk briskly when it starts to thicken and cook over low heat for a minute or two, whisking constantly. Don't allow it to boil! It will be 175°F on an instant-read thermometer. Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.
For the Crust:
- Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and Crisco and pulse about 10 times until the butter is in small bits. Add the ice water and process until the dough comes together. Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Roll out the dough and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable sides. Don't stretch the dough when placing it in the pan or it will shrink during baking. Cut off the excess by rolling the pin across the top of the pan. Line the tart shell with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill it with dried beans or rice. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and prick the bottom of the sell all over with a fork to allow the steam to escape. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. (Careful or the sides will darken quickly. I had to cover the edge in foil to get the center baked through enough.) Set aside to cool.
- Raise the oven temperature to 425°F.
For the Meringue:
- Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed until frothy. With the mixer still running, slowly add the sugar and beat until the meringue is thick and shiny, about 2 minutes.
- Spread the lemon filling in the cooled tart shell and pipe the meringue over it with a large star tip. Be sure the meringue covers the entire top and touches the edges of the shell, to prevent it from shrinking. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes, until the meringue is lightly browned.
- Cool to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator to keep cool. Best if it has set for a few hours to overnight. Serve chilled.
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