When I called my Grammy to ask for the recipe for the fabulous Lemon Cream Pie she bakes every Easter, I expected her to reach for a classic cookbook or a magazine article she’d clipped. Little did I suspect that the source of this luscious, citrusy lemon-lover’s dream was a 1960s cream cheese package.
To be specific, this Lemon Cream Pie recipe (or rather, my Grammy’s inspiration for it—as with any experienced baker, she’s made her own changes over the years) hails from a 1960s cream cheese cookbook pamphlet my Grammy received by mailing in a coupon clipped from the back of her cream cheese package. Decades later, her family still sits down to devour Lemon Cream Pie.
The pamphlet, titled Philly Pies, contained about 10 cream cheese pie recipes total, and while I’m not sure which other ones my Grammy may have sampled over the years, today’s no bake lemon cream cheese pie is the one that has earned a place in our Easter tradition.
In my family, we are serious about our holiday meals, especially our desserts, so I assure you that if you try this Lemon Cream Pie, you will understand why my Grammy has been baking it all these years.
Although you might find many other no bake lemon pie, lemon cream cheese pie, or lemon custard pie recipes online, you will not find this one—believe me, I looked. Every lemon cream pie I found used a combination of instant pudding mix, canned condensed milk, and/or whipped topping from a tub.
While these shortcuts each have their place (and Grammy herself is not above using occasional mixes or premade products where she feels the taste is equivalent), she has stood firm on making Lemon Cream Pie from scratch, because the results are worth it.
Spend a few extra minutes juicing real lemons, stir them together with real eggs on the stove, and watch the magic as they thicken into the richest, most luxurious lemon custard you’ve ever tasted. Try your hardest not to devour the entire bowl of creamy filling before you’ve poured it into the pie crust. Top the lemon pie with homemade whipped cream. Lick the spoon.
From the 1960s to your table: the best-ever Lemon Cream Pie. Grammy, thanks for mailing away for that pamphlet all those years ago!
Tools I used to make this recipe:
Deep(er) 9-inch pie dish. You’ll need one with a little extra space for all that creamy lemon filling. (This isn’t my exact dish, but it is very similar.)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
12 ounces reduced fat cream cheese*, softened to room temperature
For the Homemade Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Prepare the crust according to recipe directions, either halving the recipe (it yields enough for 2 crusts) or freezing the second crust for a later time. (I recommend making the recipe as written and freezing the second crust. It will be great to have on hand and your are going to the effort anyway, so you might as well enjoy twice the crust!)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the pie crust, then fit into a 9-inch wide pie plate that is 1 1/2 to 2-inches deep. Trim any overhang, then crimp the crust edges as desired. Line the crust with aluminum foil or parchment paper so that the foil/paper comes all the way up the sides of the dish and fits against the sides and bottom snugly. Fill the dish with dried beans or pie weights. Place in the preheated oven and bake until the edges are barely beginning to turn golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the foil/paper and weights, then return the crust to the oven and continue baking until the bottom looks dry and lightly golden and the edges have browned, about 5 to 8 additional minutes. The bottom of the crust will puff a little as it bakes, but it will deflate again once removed from the oven. Let cool completely.
Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water to create a double boiler. Add the eggs into the bowl, then with a hand mixer on medium speed (or a whisk and some serious arm power), beat the eggs until thick and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes if using a mixer. With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar, then the lemon juice and lemon zest. Once incorporated, switch from a mixer (or whisk) to a rubber spatula. Continue to cook the mixture over the simmering water, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the bowl with your spatula, until it forms a thick, smooth custard, about 8 additional minutes. When you dip your spatula into the custard, the custard should easily coat the spatula’s back, and if you draw a line through the custard on the back of the spatula with your finger, the sides of the custard should stay separated. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool to almost room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl or a standing mixer fit with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium high speed until it is completely soft and smooth, about 3 full minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, then gradually add the cooled lemon custard to the cream cheese, beating until smooth and fully combined so that no white streaks remain. Pour the cream cheese into the baked pastry shell. Refrigerate the pie until fully chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Up to 4 hours before serving, prepare the homemade whipped cream: In large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment over medium speed. When it starts to thicken, add the powdered sugar and vanilla, increase the mixer speed to high, and continue to beat until soft peaks form. (Do not over beat or the cream will separate.) Spread over the chilled pie, slice, and serve cold.
*My Grammy uses full fat cream cheese. I used reduced fat cream cheese to make the pie a bit lighter, and thought it was still plenty rich and creamy. Feel free to choose whichever you like—just do not sure fat free cream cheese as both the texture and flavor will be off.
My Grammy’s adaptation of the recipe she found in the Kraft 1960s “Philly Pies” recipe mailer.