Amy Keyishian

Perfect Meringue: What’s The Secret?

make meringue

 

Deceptively simple (after all, what’s easier than beating egg whites into stiff peaks?) meringue remains a mystery to many. Something that looks that much like a cloud, yet is solid and sweet on the fork, could intimidate anyone.

 

Fortunately, if you’re hoping to serve a lemon meringue pie this Thanksgiving (or, really, anytime — when is it inappropriate to have lemon meringue pie?), we’ve dug up some secrets that we hope will propel you forward into the land of the frost.

 

As usual, I mistrust my own terrible instincts, so I turned to Kim Laidlaw, author of this year’s must-give cookbook, Dessert of the Day. She assures me that, sure enough, making perfect meringue is not difficult, but it’s also not a process you want to hurry.

 

 

Wash a load of dishes. Really well.
“All your tools need to be completely clean and grease-free,” Laidlaw says. “The tiniest hint of yolk or grease will diminish your volume.” Like a 1980′s hair band, you must see volume as your prize, your treasure, the meaning of your existence until your pie hits the table.

 

 

Start with cold eggs.
“They separate much more easily and there’s less chance of breaking the yolk,” our meringue maven proclaims. You know how to separate eggs, right? Gently break the shell into two neat pieces, then toss the yolk back and forth from piece to piece until the white has drained into the bowl.

 

 

Then set them on the counter and do something else.
“Once they’re separated, bring the whites to room temperature,” says Laidlaw, which should take about 30 minutes. “Warm eggs will yield greater volume” when you beat them. Remember: Aquanet. Bon Jovi. Teasing combs. You’re on a mission.

 

 

Shore up your buttresses.
Most recipes will call for cream of tartar. Heed this call. It adds stability. (Some daredevils will swap in corn starch, but are you going to argue with the woman who literally wrote the book on this?)

 

 

Time the sugar correctly
Again, this isn’t a seat-of-your-pants process. You waited long enough for the eggs to reach optimal temperature, you can wait a few more moments. “Add your sugar very slowly,” says Laidlaw. “And only after you’ve started beating and the eggs have begun to foam.”

 

 

STOP!
“Do not overbeat the meringue,” says Laidlaw. “That is the number-one mistake people make with their meringue: it becomes dry because they overdid it.”

 

 

Some experts will advise you to use eggs that are a few days old to get a higher volume. But Laidlaw debunks that myth. “Yes, you’ll get better loft with older eggs, but you’ll get better stability with fresher ones,” she says. They cancel each other out, so don’t sweat the age of your eggs.

 

Many folks also complain about the terrible waste of all those yolks, wondering if they should use Eggbeaters or another carton o’ whites product. Laidlaw says nyet. They’re pasteurized, which isn’t necessary here, and the pasteurization robs them of a lot of their volume.

 

But there’s a very excellent use for all those yolks: the lemon curd you’re going to fill your pie with. And that is what you call synergy.

 

What are your secrets to perfect meringue? Tell us in the comments below!

 

 

Psst! What’s the secret?

Find out with all our What’s the Secret articles!

13 Responses to “Perfect Meringue: What’s The Secret?”

  • I have tried everything but using powered sugar to keep beads of sugary liquid from forming on top of my meringue. I haven’t tried using corn starch yet.

  • Great information. Lucky me I found your website by
    chance (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later!

  • Gayle says:

    Does a high altitude recipe exist for meringue? I can’t make it work no matter what I do.

  • DebraLea says:

    i’ve always called them ‘sugar beads’. to tell the truth i didn’t know for a long time that you didn’t want them. when i was ready to make my first lemon meringue pie i read so many recipes and tips that it was hard to decide which one to follow. the ingredients are basically all the same, i believe it’s in the learning to use the tips that determines the out come and to be what you want. i took a tip from each one and went for it. first time luck because i thought it was great. not one pie has ever came out the same way. it has always been better then the last one in one way or another. i do a 5 egg LMPie. i differ in only to using fresh eggs. too old and they only foam up. one true tip is separate each egg into a separate bowl first before adding to others. any yolk in the white throw it out & wash bowl. to whites i add crm of tarter,1/8 tsp per egg, a tsp baking powder, that dash of salt & a tsp vanilla. room temp them. i have put them into the microwave for 8 seconds. i just read you can put the eggs (in shell) in warm water for 10 minutes to rm temp.( i haven’t tried it yet.) outside of a hand wire whip i thought my beater was good, until i used my daughters new beater with a instant turbo power blaster. my whites were beautiful glossy stiff peaks and going on top the ‘hot’ filling in under a minutes time touching the crust all around. what great looking curled peaks. i do 2 Tbsp reg. sugar per egg. 1/2c per 5 eggs. i bake 20 minutes at 325 degrees. i thought the ‘beads’ came from not letting it cool before putting it in the refrigerator but i bake in the early hours of the morning like starting at midnight, so when it comes out of the oven it goes right in the icebox. and i go to bed. my husband loves the filling creamy custard with lemon syrup running on the bottom to spooned over the meringue. it’s a case of to each his own liking. but when i get up and see half the pie is gone i know i’ve mastered another one. good luck and know..really there are no ‘bad’ homemade pies.

  • Kay says:

    OOPS! I meant to say PUT a meringue on hot filling not “but”. Sorry!

  • Kay says:

    I have been making meringue pies and entering them in fair competition for years and have walked away with the blue ribbon many times, here are some of my hints to a beautiful meringue. I always use room temperature eggs. There is a “meringue powder” made by Wilton that you can purchase in Wal Mart in the cake decorating section which I put in my egg whites to help create volume and stabilize the meringue. As most of my recipes use 3 egg yolks for the filling, my recipe for the meringue uses 3 egg whites, 2 slightly heaping tablespoons of the meringue powder, 3 tablespoons of HOT water, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Beat together until starts to hold its shape then add 6 tablespoons of sugar one tablespoon at a time. I like to use super fine sugar as it seems to dissolve better. Another thing you can do to make sure that the sugar is dissolved is to rub a little bit of the meringue between your fingers after you feel you are done beating the egg whites, if you feel any graininess, then you need to beat a little longer. I was told that the little beads that sometimes form on the meringue are grains of sugar that did not completely dissolve. Another tip is to ALWAYS but meringue on a HOT filling. This might help with the weeping also. But it seems sometime you just can’t avoid the weeping. The weather can be a factor also in how well your meringue stands up. The pie that seems to give me the most trouble is Banana Cream pie. My theory is that you never know how much sugar is in your bananas and that can cause the pie to weep. As I said, that is just my theory, but I do know if I make a Banana Cream pie we want to eat it the same day, which usually isn’t a problem. I hope some of these hints will help some of you out.

  • Kay says:

    Thanks Jenny I’ll try that next time.

  • Helen says:

    I agree with all the hints. However, I find it better to wait until soft peaks form before adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and beating till the sugar is dissolved before adding the next tablespoon.

  • Lucia says:

    Beating until sugar completely dissolved. Adding cream of tartar as noted…but I drizzle in corn starch that is cooked in a little water until clear and then cooled. And most important, after cooking just open oven door and allow to slowly cool. That help prevents shrinkage and weeping

  • In reply to Kay, I use about a Tbsp. sugar per egg white plus 1/2 tsp. creme de tarter per 3 egg whites.

  • I agree with all of your directions. I have had great success with meringue because I bake the pie and meringue for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I cool the dessert for about an hour before putting it in the refrigerator.

  • Kay Fogleman says:

    I have the same problem and have tried all suggestions but it still weeps. I did not find the the article above helpful at all. She never even said how much sugar per egg white or tartar.
    Good luck

  • Joyce says:

    I do all the above but still my meringue weeps. What can I do to prevent that. Also what temperature is best to bake the meringue and for how long?

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