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Lemon meringue pie is perfect for whenever dessert time calls for something light and sunny, and I think that is twice as true in the dead of winter, when seasonal, local fruit is on the decline. I can't think of a better foil for cold and darkness than tangy lemon filling, crisp flaky crust, and of course, bruleed clouds of meringue. It's the kind of dessert that warms the soul with memories of summer.
Lemon meringue is a pie of few ingredients, so select them with care. There's no substitute for fresh, juicy lemons—bottled juice will make the filling taste funky and metallic. Don't do it! Likewise, lemons that have taken a turn for the squishy, shriveled, or bruised will not yield fresh, fragrant zest or juice necessary for a good pie. Meyer lemons (which start becoming available later in the winter) are an excellent choice, but you'll need to dial back the sugar a bit, since Meyer lemons are less tart.
Bakers face a decision when it comes to making the meringue. Most classic recipes call for a French Meringue topping, which is made with raw egg whites, granulated sugar, and pinches of cream of tartar and salt. But feeling a little skeeved out by yet another article on Salmonella poisoning, I opted to use a Swiss meringue instead. The only difference between the two is that the egg white mixture is whisked over a bath of boiling water until it feels warm to the touch and the sugar has completely dissolved, then whisked until stiff and glossy. Please note: make the meringue right before serving so that it doesn't form a rubbery skin on top.
This pie, adapted from my grandmother's recipe, is a staple for the Italians in my family year round, but it's especially at the center of attention at Christmas time.