Cranberries are often the only source of precious, richness-cutting acid on the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables, which is why I’ve always insisted that they belong on the equally rich dessert table, too. This year, I finally gave in to a recurring pie-based intrusive thought: What if I made lemon meringue pie, but cranberry?
If you have a bag of Thanksgiving cranberries taking up freezer space, trust me: Cranberry meringue pie is their highest possible calling. (And if you don’t have leftovers, it’s worth picking up an extra bag just to make it.) Your family and friends will ooh and ahh over the bright magenta filling and pretty swirls of toasted meringue—and they’ll only love it more when they take a bite. The tart, perky cranberry curd perfectly offsets the crisp, buttery crust and marshmallowy Swiss meringue. It’s nothing like any of the usual holiday pies, and that’s exactly why you should make it.
Best of all, cranberry meringue pie is not at all hard to make, especially considering the visually stunning final product. The filling is a simple, no-bake cranberry curd thickened with egg yolks and cornstarch; just cook it on the stove, pour it into a prepared crust—or a homemade one if you’re fancy—and let it cool. A quick Swiss meringue with plenty of vanilla and salt uses up the leftover egg whites and is sturdier than the usual uncooked French meringue, so your pie will still look gorgeous by the time the dessert course rolls around.
Cranberry meringue pie
You can use any pre-made or homemade crust you like here. My go-to is the Smitten Kitchen extra-flaky pie dough recipe (I make it in the stand mixer), but a Ritz cracker crust, pretzel crust, or even a store-bought graham cracker crust would all work great. Just be sure to par-bake it if needed.
For the filling:
- 1 12-ounce bag whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 tablespoons cold salted butter, cubed
- 1 8- or 9-inch pie crust, any kind, par-baked if necessary
For the meringue:
- 3 large egg whites
- 2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar
- Generous pinch of salt
- Generous splash of vanilla extract
To make the filling, combine the cranberries, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan with a lid. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue boiling for 3-5 minutes, or until the cranberries have totally disintegrated and the mixture is thick and gloopy.
While the cranberries cook, whisk the egg yolks and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. When the cranberries are done, scrape the contents of the saucepan through a fine mesh sieve into the bowl with the eggs and cornstarch. Stir and press on the solids in the sieve until you’ve extracted all the liquid you possibly can, then scrape whatever’s on the bottom of the sieve into the bowl.
Whisk the cranberry-egg-cornstarch mixture together thoroughly, pour it back into the saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Cook at a full boil for 3 full minutes while whisking. Finally, whisk in the butter piece by piece until it’s completely incorporated and pour the filling into a prepared pie crust. Cool on a rack at room temperature until there’s no heat coming off the bottom of the pan, then refrigerate overnight (or about three hours if you’re on deadline and like living dangerously).
To make the meringue, combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer and set it over a small saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring with a flexible spatula, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is a little foamy, then add the salt and vanilla and whip to stiff peaks. Top the cooled pie with the meringue in any pattern you like, toast with a culinary blowtorch or under the broiler, and serve.