This pie is so light and fluffy yet bursting with lemon flavor! Add the graham cracker crust, which pairs perfectly with the lemon, and you have a dessert that is sure to be a favorite!
We have a Meyer lemon tree growing in our backyard. Our lemon tree produces the most amazingly sweet lemons. And one of our lemons may produce as much juice as three store-bought lemons. So it’s safe to say you won’t find lemons in my grocery cart at the store! Thanks to our lemon tree, I always have lemon juice on hand. I either harvest right from the tree in the late summer or from the juice I froze. Our tree produces more than we can reasonably use before the fruit turns. Usually, about half of the harvest, I’ll juice and freeze. I freeze the juice in half-cup containers, making it super easy to grab the amount I need for a recipe.
I created this recipe to have another amazing way of using our abundance of lemon juice. This pie is so light and fluffy, but you still get a great lemon flavor! You do need lemon zest for this recipe, not just lemon juice. The zest gives it that punch of lemon flavor that makes this pie so good.
I went back and forth as to whether to use a traditional dough pie crust or a graham cracker crust…I made the right call. The graham cracker goes perfectly with the lemon!
There is a right way and a wrong way to zest citrus:
When you zest your citrus, you want to use a fine grater or a grater designed specifically for zesting. Use light to medium pressure and ONLY zest the outside layer or the colorful part of the rind. That is where the most flavor is found. When you get to the white layer, called the pith, you’ve reached the bitter-tasting layer, and you don’t want that in your desserts. Different fruits have different thicknesses to their rinds. I always grate a few strokes and check to see if I’ve almost reached the pith (remember you don’t want to actually grate that part), turn the fruit slightly, and grate again. After a few turns, you’ll have a sense of how much pressure to use and how many strokes it takes to grate just the rind.
For this recipe, you begin with the graham cracker crust. This crust may use more butter than some others you’ve seen, but for a good reason. The butter is the binding agent, and you don’t want your crust falling apart when you go to serve your pie. I’ve used store-bought graham cracker crust…and I have never had one that tasted fresh like the ones I make at home. Considering that it takes only 10 minutes to put together and 10 minutes to bake (if you bake it), it’s worth the small amount of effort you have to put in to have a fresh-tasting crust.
Mix your graham cracker crumbs and sugar together before adding the melted butter. It makes it easier to get everything evenly incorporated. I like to stir in the butter with a fork; I can break up any clumps and fluff the crumbs simultaneously. Pour the mixture into your pie pan. Using a medium flat bottomed measure cup, press the graham cracker mixture firmly into the bottom of the pie pan. Press up the sides. I use my finger to pack downwards while using the measuring cup to press the sides.
I like to bake my graham cracker crust, though you wouldn’t have to. Baking helps the butter and sugar melt into the graham cracker crumbs and bind everything together. Also, baking just gives me more confidence that my pie crust will hold together. I bake at a lower temperature, 300F, for no more than 10 minutes. The number one reason for rock-hard graham cracker crust is baking too long or with too high of a temperature.
A few notes in making this pie:
- Make sure you use unflavored gelatin (It will be in a powdered form). The gelatin will thicken and stabilize the pie filling. The easiest way to soften the gelatin is to soak it in 1/4 cup cold water for 5 minutes. Stir it to moisten all the gelatin. After 5 minutes, heat it in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. It should be melted and translucent. Set aside. You can not skip these steps.
- When cooking the egg mixture, make sure you are not boiling the eggs. You just want a hot simmer. Be sure to stir constantly. After you have cooked the egg yolk mixture, let it cool for 15 minutes.
- While it’s cooling, you’ll need to beat the egg whites with a handheld beater. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until you have stiff peaks. You know you have stiff peaks when you lift the beater from the egg whites, and you have tall mountain-like peaks that do not collapse (be sure to turn the beaters off before lifting…trust me, I’ve made this mistake).
- Fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture until everything is incorporated evenly.
- Pour into your prepared crust (your crust must be completely cool), and refrigerate for 4 hours.
If your crust is not releasing from the pie pan when you are ready to serve, you can let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes; as the pie pan warms to room temperature, it should release the crust. If you want to speed up the process, you can set the pie pan in a little warm water (careful not to get water on the pie itself) for 15 to 30 seconds. The crust should lift right out. But if you’ve made a pie before, you’ve probably discovered that the first piece is the hardest to get out…I call it the “hostess’s piece.” Sometimes you can do everything right, and you’ll still struggle to get that first piece of pie out. It’s just due to the shape of a pie pan, so don’t stress, just give the first piece to yourself and everyone else the “pretty” pieces.
**Food blogger’s secret – Rarely are those beautiful pictures of a perfect piece of pie, the first piece out of the pie pan. I know mine are not. I usually destroy the first piece getting it out of the pie pan, and then the second piece, which comes out so much easier, is picture-perfect!!
Lemon Chiffon Pie
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs, (10 full sheets of graham crackers)
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
- ¼ cup cold water
- 4 eggs, separated
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- whipped cream
Graham Cracker Crust:
- Preheat the oven to 300°.
- Process the graham cracker in a blender or food processor until you have fine crumbs.
- Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar, mixing until evenly combined. Stir in melted butter with a fork until the butter is incorporated evenly.
- Press the mixture into a pie dish and up the sides. Make sure it is tight and compact. The bottom of a medium-size measuring cup works well. You want the crust to be thick.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
- Allow pie crust to completely cool before adding the lemon filling.
- In a small microwave-safe bowl, soften the powdered gelatin in ¼ cup cold water, stirring to moisten all the gelatin. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Microwave for 10 to 15 seconds until the gelatin is translucent. Set aside.
- Zest one lemon or until you have 1 tablespoon of zest, set aside.
- Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks until thickened. Add to the egg yolks; salt, lemon juice, and ½ cup sugar. Blend well.
- Add the egg mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the lemon zest and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
- While the lemon filling is cooling, beat the egg whites with the remaining ½ cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Pour lemon filling into the bowl with egg whites, and fold together until completely combined.
- Pour filling into the graham cracker crust and chill in the refrigerator until firm (about 4 hours). Top with whipped cream and serve.