let’s share a pie: lemon icebox pie

Well, hello there. I’ve missed you.

After I posted this story about my dad’s dementia, I hightailed it off to Puerto Rico with my husband and kids for a much needed family vacation. When I was twelve, my father spent three months in Puerto Rico, installing stained glass windows in a cathedral in San Juan. I have happy memories of visiting him for a few days that summer, with my little brother and my mom. Mostly, though, I remember that the hotel we stayed in had an outdoor atrium with palm trees and tropical flowers. In that atrium was a pond with a path of stepping stones connecting one side of the pond to the other. Hundreds of flamingos, or maybe just a dozen, lived there amongst the lilypads. My brother – who always ran and never walked – barreled across those stepping stones one morning, lost his footing, and promptly fell right in the middle of the pond, soaking his shoes, shorts, and t-shirt. I loved every minute of it.

There were no pond accidents on our recent trip to Puerto Rico. Instead, there was lots of exploring — the rainforest of El Yunque, the historic Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the streets of Old San Juan, and the massive resort in Fajardo where we spent our nights.  I’ll share photos of the trip soon, once I have a spare minute to myself to sort through the hundreds of images. And, you know, get rid of all the bad photos of me.

lemon icebox pie | the merry gourmet

But today, I have a pie for you, just because you deserve one. You’ve stuck with me here, as I’ve dealt with — and posted about — lots of sad stuff. I’ve received so many wonderful messages of support, especially whenever I write about my father. It’s overwhelming, really. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)

I always hesitate before writing those posts, or any posts, really, that aren’t happy and bubbly. What I’ve found, though, is that you all get it. You completely get it. You understand that life is hard — because it’s hard for you, too. You each are dealing with crap that sucks. Life is hard, and for each of us, it’s hard in ways that are alike and in ways that are not so alike. But regardless, we all understand what it is like to hurt.

Those moments that get us down bring us together as humans. It’s easy to feel alone, isolated. But we are SO not alone. We have each other.

lemon icebox pie | the merry gourmet

So have pie with me, won’t you? I think we’ve earned it.

This lemon icebox pie was our Father’s Day dessert this year. My kids were pushing for cake – they love when I make cakes – but I didn’t want something so heavy. I wanted a dessert that was light (in texture, anyway), cold, refreshing. Lemon always fits that bill.

This recipe is adapted from one in an issue of Cook’s Country, those same people behind America’s Test Kitchen. Of all of the food magazines I subscribe to, the America’s Test Kitchen line of periodicals (Cook’s Country, Cook’s Illustrated) is my most reliable source, and their magazines and websites are often the first place I look when I’m searching for a recipe.

Go forth and make pie!

lemon icebox pie | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 8.

Lemon Icebox Pie

This recipe is tweaked, just slightly, from a recipe from Cook’s Country, the June/July 2013 issue.


9 whole graham crackers
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 5 or 6 lemons)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 degrees, with rack in middle position.

Break up graham crackers into the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Pour crumbs into a medium bowl and whisk in 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Stir in melted butter until all the crumbs are coated evenly. Transfer to 9-inch pie plate and, using the bottom of a measuring cup or small glass, press evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes. Let crust cool completely on a wire rack, about 35 minutes.

Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk sweetened condensed milk together with the egg yolks. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice. Pour into cooled pie crust and bake until the edges are beginning to set but the center still jiggles when shaken, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 1 hour on a wire rack. Refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla together. Beat on medium low speed for about 1 minute, then increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Spread whipped topping evenly on top of the pie. Chill until ready to serve.

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25 Responses to “the cake walk, and a lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting”

  1. 1
    Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — March 4, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    Beautiful cake, lovely story MJ. You’re a great mum xo

  2. 2
    Melissa // thefauxmartha — March 4, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

    I love the power of a slice of cake. You are one good mama! And just imagine how sad Madeline would have been had you made that in the first place and not won it back. PS—the crumb on that cake looks perfect!

  3. 3
    abby dodge — March 4, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    Lovely cake.. Lovely story… loving Mom!

  4. 4
    Macaroni Mama — March 4, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    Hide your head in shame. EVERYONE knows homemade cakes are the “soul” of the cake walk. Glad you made this beautiful cake for my grandchildren, though.

  5. 5
    Leigh — March 4, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

    I feel your shame, although I do not profess to be a fabulous baker like you. I still send Publix cookies to every party request and ignore all the volunteer forms. I’m glad you baked your daughter a cake for home instead. That way it didn’t go to someone who won that unfair game. 😉

  6. 6
    Nancie McDermott — March 4, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    Mighty-Mom in my book. You showed up, and I’ll bet somebody loved that red ladybug cake. Now we all have this beautiful essay and image and the scoop on the cake. I’m giving you a gold star and a no-homework pass.

  7. 7
    Theresa — March 4, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

    A lovely lovely cake! Your daughter is one lucky girl. 🙂

  8. 8
    Aggie — March 4, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

    I bet all the little girls begged for that lady bug cake! 🙂 your homemade cake wouldn’t have been appreciated as much as it was by your two little sweeties at home…I always feel guilt about pretty much everything when it comes to my kids MJ, and I swear, like you, sometimes baking or cooking them something with love kind of undoes all the guilt and makes it all better…

    sending you a mommy hug…and can’t wait to see you in a couple of weeks! 🙂

  9. 9
    Renee — March 4, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

    This cake looks splendid. I adore lemon. It should remove all the guilty feelings about the store-bought cake and replace them with guilty feelings about gaining weight after you eat the entire thing. At least, that’s what I’d do.

  10. 10
    Jennie — March 4, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

    MJ, I totally hear you on the barage of emails/volunteer forms/fundraising stuff from school. It’s enough to drive any working parent crazy. The cake looks wonderful. Can’t wait to see you in less than two weeks!

  11. 11
    Jesica@ Pencil Kitchen — March 5, 2012 @ 3:22 am

    When i saw your picture, i went oh bloooody I want this! Well, its better that you lost in the game and made this i guess 😉

  12. 12
    myfudo — March 5, 2012 @ 4:42 am

    A splendid and festive cake like this is really a celebration by itself. I love the elegant presenation.

  13. 13
    Aimee @ Simple Bites — March 5, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    Elegant perfectly describes this cake. My mouth is watering for a slice!

  14. 14
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 5, 2012 @ 9:54 am

    I can see why you would be disappointed… but this cake looks like a winner to me and I’m glad that baking it and eating it together made you all feel better.

  15. 15
    Cassie — March 6, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    Dessert, especially cake, heals all! I love lemon desserts and this sounds fabulous. Absolutely gorgeous!

  16. 16
    Heidi @foodiecrush — March 6, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

    Thank you Madeline! Without whom I never would have seen your instagram, had the recipe e-mailed to me and then made toot sweet for my Sunday family dinner. It was sooo delicious, even though I ran out of cake flour and only had one brick of cream cheese. But with a couple of substitutions, it was still divine and a hit with the fam. Thank you, thank you!

  17. 17
    Feast on the Cheap — March 7, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

    I’m pretty sure this cake makes up for it, wow. I’m also pretty sure this would be far tastier than any cake you’d win at the carnival 😉

  18. 18
    Lucy — March 8, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    As the mom of 2 grown kids and one almost, I can say there’s never a moment when you sit back and think you’ve done everything just right. You can always think of something you “should” have done. So, I would have felt just as you did! But usually the kids care much less about the things we obsess over than we do. Beautiful lemon cake and beautiful ways of taking care of your family.

  19. 19
    Marla — March 8, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

    Sooooo in love with all the lemony bliss in this perfect layer cake!

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  22. 20
    Paula — March 12, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    I had to laugh at your mom’s comment 🙂 I’m sorry Madeline did not win a prized cake but I commend her for not easily accepting defeat. You were sweet to sooth her feelings (and your unnecessary guilt) by making this great looking cake.

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  25. 21
    kelsey — March 10, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

    Made this for my brother’s birthday today and everyone loved it! So surprised with how dense it was, but still moist! Thanks for sharing!

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