In the compendium of lemon desserts, I tend to prefer offerings that really deliver a pucker-worthy punch of in-your-face lemon flavor. When it comes to Lemonade, Lemon Bars. or Lemon Curd, I want zip and zing. I want my mouth to salivate involuntarily. I want my eyes to water just a tiny bit (in a good way).
But when it comes to lemon cream pie, I want the softer side of citrus. I want to taste a mild, gentle, creamier version of lemon. I want a cool whisper of lemon. The version of lemon that is inviting and lingering, like a considerate house guest who leaves you wanting more.
In my recipe for Lemon Cream Pie, you can count on lemon flavor that will tiptoe onto your palette and gracefully make her appearance known without punching you in the face with an overbearing amount of zing.
You can choose any press-in crust of your liking, but I would highly suggest using shortbread cookie crumbs. Bonus points if you can find lemon short-bread cookies (thank you, Central Market!). The soft cookie crumbs and the cool lemon cream make for a perfect pairing in my opinion.
Lemon Cream Pie
- for the crust…
- 1 3/4 cups finely ground shortbread cookie crumbs 8 ounces
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- a pinch of Kosher salt
- for the filling…
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar plus
- 2 tablespoons
- zest of 2 lemons
- a pinch of Kosher salt
- 5 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons corn starch
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- for serving…
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- a few slices of fresh lemon for garnish if desired
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter, stirring until evenly mixed. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of your desired pie or tart pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, or until just beginning to turn golden brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you prepare the filling.
- To make the filling, heat the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, the lemon zest, and the Kosher salt over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pay attention to the milk as it heats. You want it to be steaming, and just on the verge of simmering, but not actively boiling or bubbling.
- While the milk mixture heats, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, the egg yolks, and the cornstarch in a medium bowl. Very gently combine with a whisk until the cornstarch is incorporated, then whisk vigorously for at least 1 minute until the mixture is pale yellow and expanded in volume.Once the milk mixture is steaming, add one ladle of milk to the egg yolk mixture, and stir to combine. Repeat this two more times, until about half of the hot milk mixture has been added to the eggs.
- Pour the now-warm egg yolk mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk, and begin to whisk constantly. At this point, you are looking for a bubble to burst on the surface, the first sign that the mixture has reached its thickening point, but you really must keep whisking to prevent the bottom from scalding. Take a three second break to look for bubbles, and then continue whisking. Once you see a bubble burst on the surface, set a timer (or count in your head) for one minute. Whisk constantly during this minute!
- After whisking, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla, and lemon juice, continuing to whisk until the butter is completely incorporated. Pour the hot pastry cream into the prepared crust, smooth it out evenly, and then top with a sheet of plastic wrap directly touching the filling.
- Refrigerate until firm, at least four hours, or up to two days.
- To make the whipped cream, combine the heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium speed to carefully incorporate the sugar, then switch to high speed and whisk until stiff peaks form.Slather the whipped cream on top of the chilled lemon cream pie, garnish with a few lemon wedges, slice, and enjoy!