Published March 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.
While elegant and easy to make, this classic dessert is often marred by a texture that’s either too soupy or overly dense, along with lemon flavor that’s just so-so.
Sometimes the filling of this classic dessert fails to set properly and gushes like soup or, conversely, sets up too much and turns out springy and chewy like a marshmallow. And the citrus flavor? With all those egg whites and the sugar, it’s usually a little flat.
A pie with a filling that’s creamy, rich, and set but not stiff—and that packs plenty of bright lemon punch.
A classically crisp, buttery graham cracker crust seemed just fine here, so we skipped straight to the filling. We knew that too much gelatin was responsible for the springiness, but we also knew that we couldn’t do without at least a small amount of this particular thickener. Cornstarch alone dulled the flavor, but when we combined it with the gelatin and whipped them together in a stand mixer, we produced a filling that was less foamy and a bit thicker and more dense.
Now that we’d straightened out the structural issues, we could work on brightening up the lemon flavor and hopefully make the filling a bit richer, too. Some of the most lemony pies we’d made early on got their citrus flavor not only from fresh-squeezed juice but also from zest and even lemon extract. And yet the big lemon kick that our tasters clamored for still hadn’t fully come through. What the pie needed, they said, was another layer of lemon flavor.
What if, instead of mixing all of the potent lemon curd into the whipped egg white mixture, we reserved a portion of it to line the pie shell? Since we were losing some of the gelatin to the curd liner, the chiffon layer now squished a bit under the knife when we sliced. It also tasted a bit lean, since the curd took some of the yolks and cream with it, too. So we divided the teaspoon of gelatin between the two layers. This way, both components contained just enough to be creamy yet stable. Four ounces of cream cheese, stirred into the remaining portion of the curd, enriched the chiffon nicely and also thickened it up a bit. Creamy but sturdy, rich but still lightweight, and full of bright citrus tang, this pie was a showstopper.list of recipes