Perfect Meringue: What’s The Secret?
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.”
“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!