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labinski

Secrets To Good Meringue

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Making a good meringue takes practice, and it always helps to follow a few rules. These are the points that I follow whenever I make meringue. After following these rules over several seasons of holidays, they all come naturally.

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Meringue is a light, airy, sweet topping made mostly from egg whites. Piled on top and browned in the oven, it crowns many delicious pies like lemon meringue pie, as well as in other desserts like banana pudding. Unfortunately, meringue can be tricky to prepare. Many people give up entirely and smear on Cool Whip or something similar. The Internet contains many recipes like these, often titled "Quick and Easy." I find them more along the lines of "Cheap and Tawdry."

The point is to not get frustrated when the meringue you've labored over comes out flat, gooey or otherwise less than perfect.

With desserts that use meringue, the required number of eggs have had the egg whites separated from the yolks, which often are used in the filling. Here is the first, most important rule: Use fresh eggs to make meringue, and these fresh eggs should be at room temperature.

Old eggs simply have gotten long of tooth and will not produce the fluffy volume required by meringue. Before you start, check the date on the egg carton and make sure you have fresh eggs. Don't just pull eggs out of the refrigerator and start making meringue. Give them the necessary time to get to room temperature. Touch the shells. Do they feel cold?

The temperature of ingredients is always important when cooking, and never more so than when making meringue. To speed up the warming, separate the egg whites from the yolks into two bowls if you like.

Next, make sure the egg whites are uncontaminated with egg shell. I use a black Fiesta bowl, which makes it very easy to notice any unwanted bits of egg shell floating around. I remove these using a clean spoon. Also, egg whites simply will not whip if there is any yolk in them -- even a speck. Be really careful when separating eggs; as long as the yolks remain whole, you don't have to worry about it. There are many techniques and gadgets used for separating eggs. Find the one that works best for you.

Now that you've got your fresh eggs separated and the egg whites are shell-free and ready to go, it is time to start mixing.

Mixing the Meringue

It amazes me to remember how my grandmother used to whip egg whites by hand in a big mixing bowl, before electric mixers became commonplace. Fortunately, today's electric mixers work well.

I find that there is a real cadence to mixing the meringue. With three egg whites in the mixer bowl, turn on the mixer and get it going on high speed. Then drop in the 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar to stabilize the meringue. In a matter of seconds, the whites will be frothy. Then it's time to start adding the six tablespoons of sugar, one at a time. After that, it's time to add the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.

By the time you have moved through this process -- not rushed, yet without dawdling -- your meringue should have whipped up into a mountain and stiff peaks will be forming. When you see the stiff peaks, stop mixing.

That's right folks, you can overbeat meringue. What's the best way to tell when it's finished? Look for the stiff peaks. A proper meringue is malleable and holds its shape. (We demonstrate this in the accompanying photo.)

Timing is Everything

The moment your pie crust is filled or your pudding is made, start your mixer and begin making the meringue. That way the filling is still hot when you put the meringue on, This prevents that watery layer between the filling and the meringue that sometimes develops after the meringue is baked.

One last tip: when making meringue for a pie, spread the meringue out touching it so that it seals with the pastry crust. This seals the meringue to the pastry when it's cooking. You do not want your meringue to slip off the top of your pie, do you?

After doing all of this, you get a beautiful pie crowned with lovely, golden brown meringue.

Don't get discouraged if your first few attempts do not produce perfect meringue. With a little practice, you will surprise yourself at the results.

Tips for Making Meringue

  1. Use fresh eggs
  2. Beat egg whites at room temperature
  3. Separate eggs carefully. Egg whites should contain no pieces of eggshell and absolutely no yolk. If you see any yolk, start over.
  4. Make the meringue immediately after finishing your pie filling or pudding. Meringue should go onto a warm surface.
  5. Add ingredients in steady succession. Do not overbeat.

Below is our finished, baked meringue on top of a banana pudding.

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