A bowl and a whisk are all you need for whipping up meringue, but it helps to know a few secrets. Here are some tips that will keep your meringue up and your frustration down:
While older egg whites will whip up more easily and to higher proportions, fresh egg whites have stronger proteins that hold air better and remain more stable once whipped.
Separate eggs while they are still cold from the refrigerator, but set the whites aside for at least 30 minutes before whipping them. Room-temperature egg whites are easiest to whip.
Make sure no egg yolk gets into the whites, which would prevent them from whipping up.
Make sure your bowl and beaters are absolutely clean and free of fat.
If possible, use a copper bowl. A harmless chemical reaction increases the beaten whites' volume and makes them more stable.
If you do not have a copper bowl, add a small amount of cream of tartar or lemon juice before whipping the egg whites to increase their stability and volume.
Superfine sugar is ideal for making meringue, since it dissolves more quickly and completely than regular granulated sugar.
Use the back of a spoon to swirl meringue peaks atop a pie.
Use or bake meringue immediately after preparing it.
To avoid even the slightest discoloration, do not leave egg whites sitting in either aluminum or copper bowls.
Serve meringue desserts soon after preparing. Soft meringue will begin weeping in warm, humid weather, and hard meringue will become soggy after it comes in contact with moist ingredients.
Common Problems with Meringue:
There are beads of moisture on my soft meringue topping.
The meringue was overcooked. Use an oven thermometer to check your oven temperature, and don't cook your meringue topping on a cold filling, as the top can overcook before the meringue is cooked through.
Moisture is oozing from the bottom of my meringue topping.
"Weeping" is caused by undercooking meringue. Cooking a meringue topping on a cold filling can cause the bottom of the meringue to undercook.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)
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