This Lemon Pie Without Meringue uses a buttery shortbread crust filled with a tangy, fresh lemon filling and skips the lemon meringue altogether. I love lemon pie, but I find that the meringue takes a bit too much work without much reward. It doesn’t add much taste wise and I don't love the texture. Though admittedly it is a good use for the leftover egg whites.
This recipe takes the best of a lemon meringue pie and leaves out the time-consuming egg white meringue. It comes together quickly, yet cools in the fridge overnight for a really refreshing sweet treat.
Balancing Tart vs. Sweet
This Lemon Pie includes just enough sugar to balance the zingyness of the lemon zest and no more. I do my best to keep the sugar to only what is needed in the dessert and not in excess. I like to taste the main ingredients in the dessert – in this case the lemon, not just the sugar.
Shortbread Pie Crust
This Lemon Pie without Meringue is one that is not made with a typical flaky pie crust but instead a shortbread buttery cookie-like crust. One that is slightly crumbly, and mostly buttery. Similar to a graham cracker crust but simpler in flavor profile. The crust uses just a few ingredients: butter, flour, powdered sugar, and salt.
I also developed this recipe to have a THICK shortbread crust. Lemon Pie is a pretty simple dessert. It focuses on just a few great ingredients. So I wanted to make the crust nice and thick. That way there is plenty of dough to press into the bottom AND up the sides of the pie dish. Sometimes I find with pie recipes that you end up not having enough crust to amply fill the pie dish. I wanted to make sure that was not the case here.
Lemon Pie Filling
The main ingredient in the lemon pie filling is of course lemon. It uses both the zest and the juice of three lemons. The zest here is important because it adds lots of lemon flavor without adding any sourness that comes from adding the lemon juice. It gives it extra intensity and leaves room to add less sugar to balance out the tartness of the ½ cup of lemon juice.
I added 1 cup of sugar and no more to try to limit the amount of sugar in the dish. It is a very bright and zingy dessert with just the right balance of sweet and tart. I also forego adding extra butter to the filling at the end. While the butter would add a nice savoriness, I focused on just the lemon in this dish and kept it simple. You could absolutely add 2 tbsp of butter if you like after taking the lemon filling off the stove, but it is totally not necessary and I prefer to leave it out.
Refrigerating the Lemon Pie without Meringue Overnight
This pie is best made a day ahead so that it can cool down and solidify even further overnight in the fridge. If you run short on time, or you really cannot wait (it is SUPER good), you can of course dig in after it cools on the counter or after an hour or two in the fridge. It’ll still taste great but it will not hold its shape as well as it would if it cooled in the fridge overnight.
I outline below three of the different options I tried as a substitute for meringue. In the end, the best option is just to leave the toppings off altogether. Simpler is better (and cheaper).
Honey Mascarpone Whipped Cream: I tried this pie with a honey mascarpone whipped cream but the mascarpone was too intense in flavor and took away from the flavor of the pie.
Honey Whipped Cream: the honey whipped cream was also not a good fit. I expected the honey and lemon flavors to go well together, but it just didn't work. There were too many flavors going on. I did not want anything to compete with the flavor of the lemon pie.
Simple Whipped Cream: I tried it again with a very basic whipped cream. It was by far the best of the three. But really, my personal preference is a simple lemon pie without any topping at all.
Lemon Pie Without Meringue FAQs:
Yes, absolutely. Lemon Pie can be made without meringue, just simply leave it off, or top it with whipped cream for the perfect sweet dessert.
Yes, lemon pie is best refrigerated. Otherwise, the filling may be a bit runny. The texture will not be quite right.
Yes, lemon pie filling will thicken as it cools. When you take the filling off the heat it should be somewhat thick, but it will continue to thicken as it cools on the counter. It will thicken even further when placed overnight in the fridge.
Yes, Lemon Pie can be made a day ahead, and it is actually best done a day ahead. That way it has time to cool and thicken giving you just the right texture for the filling without any negative impact on the taste or texture of the shortbread pie crust.
Yes, Lemon Pie can be frozen. Cut slices to place in the freezer. When ready, take out the slices and bring to room temperature before eating. Or just eat them frozen! It’s almost like eating ice cream.
Lemon pie can be runny if you did not use enough cornstarch or substituted flour for cornstarch. It could also be runny if you did not cook the lemon filling long enough on the stove prior to filling the pie and allowing it to cool. One other culprit may be that it did not have enough time in the fridge to thicken and firm up. Lemon pie should cool in the fridge overnight before serving (or you can remove it earlier but you will need to be okay with a runnier pie).
If you make this Lemon Pie recipe, I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment down below or tag a photo on instagram! Your feedback means a lot.
If you're looking for other lemon or dessert recipes, check these out:
Raspberry Lemon Loaf: Intensely lemony and raspberry dessert in a sweet dessert loaf.
Lemon Blueberry Cookies: Bright zingy lemon cookies with fresh blueberries.
Key Lime Pie: Tart and sweet key lime pie with a graham cracker crust, super easy.
Lemon Pie Without Merignue
Shortbread Pie Crust
- ¾ cup butter, softened
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 6 tbsp corn starch
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup water
- zest of 3 lemons
- ½ cup lemon juice, about 3 lemons
- whipped cream, optional for topping
Shortbread Pie Crust
- Preheat the oven to 375℉.
- Combine the butter, flour, powdered sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Press firmly into a pie dish. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers and flattening with the back of a spoon if needed.
- Bake for 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- In a medium bowl combine the egg yolks.
- In a separate medium saucepan, combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, water, lemon zest and lemon juice. Place on medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- While whisking the egg yolks constantly, add ⅓ to ½ of the simmering lemon juice mixture to the egg yolks. Then add the egg yolk mixture back into the sauce pan and return to medium heat, whisking constantly for 2-3 minutes until thickened. Keep in mind that stovetop temperatures can be very temperamental. The actual temperature and the impact on the food depends on the stove that you are using (gas vs electric), brand, size of the burner, size and thickness of the saucepan, etc. Pay more attention to what is actually happening in your saucepan and how quickly it his happening than this 2-3 minute gauge (which is just a starting point, not a firm guideline). You want the mixture to thicken so that it is no longer very runny. It will thicken more as it cools. This lemon filling should be thicker than if you’re making a mousse or pudding which can be softer and creamier. You want this lemon filling not to spill out of your pie when you cut a slice but stay firmly “in the slice”.
Assembling the Pie
- Pour the filling into the pie crust. Allow to cool slightly on the countertop, then cover with plastic wrap and cool in the fridge overnight. Serve cold or cool, with whipped cream if desired.