Today’s Lemon Meringue Puffs have been percolating in my mind for a while. I had the idea of lending the classic pie flavor to the format of a cream puff for a year or more now. But I was always unsure of how they would look. Silly little questions, like whether to pipe or dollop the meringue? Or what to fill the puffs with – lemon curd or lemon pie filling? There were a few prototypes, the curd didn’t make the cut and a simple dunk was the surprisingly easy answer to the meringue question. There were a lot of pitfalls along the way, but these Lemon Meringue Puffs are everything I hoped they could be.
Sometimes writing a recipe can be a straightforward affair. From concept to the plate – the process is a breeze. That is rarely the case when it comes to designing baked goods. There are so many moving parts. So many necessary and precise details. Perhaps for some, baking recipes are a simple affair, but that has never been the case for me, which is probably why you don’t see many desserts on this blog. But whenever I do muster the courage to make the dessert that has been haunting my dreams, I’m always glad I did.
These Lemon Meringue Puffs put up a bit of a fight right from the get-go. Choux pastry is actually something I genuinely enjoy making. And it’s definitely not as difficult as popular myth dictates. But it can take a few tries to familiarize yourself with the visual cues associated with a well-made choux. And if you took, say, some two years off from making it, those visual cues are no longer close at hand.
In the end, to solve my choux-related problems, I turned to the most trusted and treasured cookbook I have in my collection – La Varenne Pratique by Anne Willan. With that book in my corner and everything I’d learned from my previous three failed attempts, I was able to pull off the best choux pastry I’ve ever made. Certainly better than I had made before and I’m pretty sure I could make the stuff in my sleep at this point.
The recipe for the choux below is well-tested and should work for you. But with things like choux pastry, experience is key. Knowing the right texture for the finished dough is something that can only be learned by doing. You have to work with the dough and see how it reacts with your oven. And do yourself a favor and beat the last egg you add to the dough in a ramekin first, so you can slowly add it because you might not need all it. This is how finicky this dough can be. But take heart because once you nail it you can replicate it until the cows come home.
After experimenting with lemon curd, I decided to go with a classic lemon pie filling instead. This means you can sub the boxed stuff for homemade if you’re short on time. But that’s not why I chose the pie filling. I actually prefer curd because I think it’s more flavorful. But curd is not nearly as viscous as pie filling and there was a leakage issue. These Lemon Meringue Puffs are filled from the underside to keep the top clear for meringue, so I needed a filling that would stay put when inverted. In order to beef up the lemon pie filling, I knocked back the sugar and added extra lemon zest. I despise lemon desserts that are sweet but not tart. I need a lip-pucker moment or it just won’t do.
The merigue portion of this recipe was actually the most straight-forward. A simple Italian meringue made with the egg whites leftover from the filling. I love this type of meringue because the egg whites are cooked by the hot simple syrup, so it doesn’t require a trip to the oven. You simply dunk your puffs and toast the meringue with a kitchen torch. Sure, there is hot sugar to contend with. But if you go slow, you’ll be fine.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Lemon Meringue Puffs. Sweet, tart, airy, and fluffy, these puffs deliver all the flavor of your favorite pie in a tiny and unexpected format.
Lemon Meringue Puffs
- Candy Thermometer
- stand mixer or hand mixer
Choux Pastry – Adapted from La Varenne Pratique by Anne Willan
- 175ml (5.9 fl oz) water
- 75g (2.6oz) cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
- ½ tsp salt
- 110g (3.8oz) all-purpose flour
- 3-4 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 5 tbsp cornstarch
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1½ cups water
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- 4 egg yolks beaten
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter cut into cubes
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 4 egg whites
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
For the Choux
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the water, butter, and salt in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring the water to a rolling boil and melt the butter.
- Reduce the heat to low and add all of the flour in one go. Using a wooden spoon, integrate the flour into the water mixture, working out any lumps, until a thick paste forms. Continue to cook the paste until a film forms on the bottom of the saucepan or the paste registers 175°F on a probe thermometer.
- Transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat the dough until it cools to 145°F. Beat the eggs into the dough one at a time. Beat the last egg into a ramekin and add only enough to form a thick glossy dough that falls like a ribbon from the paddle.
- Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a small round pastry tip ( I used a #12). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Squeeze a dollop of the choux pastry on all four corners to anchor the parchment paper. Pipe 1 inch rounds of the pastry well-spaced apart. You should have 20.
- Wet your index finger with a little water and tap each round to flatten the peak. Gently brush with a little egg yolk and transfer to the oven. Bake the choux for 20-25 minutes or until golden.
- Take the puffs out of the oven and let cool slightly. While still fairly hot, cut small holes in the bottom of each puff. You can refine the shape when they cool completely. This is more or less to release steam. Set the puffs aside to cool completely.
For the Lemon Filling
- In a saucepan, whisk to combine the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, and salt. Whisk in the water and lemon juice and place the mixture over medium heat.
- Once the sugar dissolves and the mixture is approaching a boil, reduce the heat and slowly whisk in two ladlesful of the hot lemon mixture into the egg yolks to temper the eggs. Pour the yolk mixture into the lemon mixture and whisk until the filling thickens and become glossy.
- Take the filling off of the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter melts completely. Transfer the filling to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let cool for 1 hour.
For the Meringue
- Pour the water and sugar into a saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Heat the mixture until it registers 240°F on a candy thermometer.
- While the sugar is heating, pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar and whisk on high until foamy.
- When sugar is hot, turn the mixer to medium and carefully and slowly stream the hot sugar mixture into the egg whites. Once the sugar has been added, increase the mixer's speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
- Transfer the lemon filling to a piping bag fitted with the #12 round tip. If the filling has set too much, whisk it to loosen it up. Pipe the filling into each puff until the puff feels heavy and the bag pushes back on you.
- Dunk the top of each puff into the meringue and toast the tops with a kitchen torch until golden. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 hours before serving.***