Light and heavenly, meringue is little more than egg whites and sugar, whipped into clouds of pure delight and gently baked. Billows of it can be used to top a pie, but it’s equally wonderful on its own, too, piped into cookies, kisses, cakes, and nests for fresh fruit.
Consider this a basic 101 in meringue. This how-to is simply taken from my recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie, which uses an easy sugar and water syrup in place of granulated sugar, and always turns out glossy and thick.
How to make meringue:
- Before you begin, separate the eggs while they’re still cold, being very careful not to leave any yolk in with the whites. Place the egg whites out on the counter to warm up to room temperature. They’ll beat faster and higher if warm.
- Next, cook the sugar and water together in a saucepan until syrupy, about 3 to 4 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, it should read 235 degrees. Take the syrup off of the heat and cover to keep it warm.
- Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on medium-low speed until foamy–about one minute.
- Next, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 1 to 3 minutes until soft peaks form and the whites are shiny. Don’t rush this step.
- Turn the mixer down and slowly– gradually–drizzle in the warm sugar syrup directly into the middle of the mixing bowl. Then add the vanilla and turn the speed back up. Beat until the meringue is very smooth, very glossy, and thick. This should take 3 to 6 minutes.
- If you’re topping a pie, spoon, pipe, or slather the top of the still-warm pie filling with the meringue. Then bake the pie at 400 degrees until golden brown on top, about 6 minutes.
- If you’re making pavlova or cookies, pipe, spoon, or form the meringue into the shape(s) you need right on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees until firm, about 30 minutes for cookie kisses, possibly longer for larger meringues. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Tips for making meringue:
While making meringue is a fairly straightforward process, there are “some” things–okay, many things— to keep in mind to ensure successful meringue. It can be tricky, but you can do it!
- Humidity: Meringue works best when made on low humidity days. If it’s raining out or muggy, it may not be the best time. Meringue absorbs moisture in the air and turn limp or sticky.
- Age of eggs: Believe it or not, older eggs make better meringue. Look at the 3-digit code printed on the end of your carton, which gives each day of the year a number. If the eggs were packaged on January 1, the code would read 001. January 2, 002, and so on, all the way to December 31, which is 365. Get it?
- Temperature of eggs. Room temperature egg whites beat faster and higher than cold egg whites. Separate the eggs while cold, then let them warm up to room temp. Most importantly, if there’s even a bit of broken yolk in the whites, fish it out as best you can or start over—the fat in the yolk will impede the egg whites from whipping.
- Equipment: For maximum meringue volume, it is important to keep your egg whites and all of your equipment as free from residual fat or grease as possible. This means no grease in your mixing bowls and no drips of egg yolk in the whites. Use glass, stainless steel, or copper mixing bowls; avoid plastic bowls since they can be porous and have a greasy film after cleaning. Also, make sure the mixing bowl and whisk are both completely dry.
- Use an acid: Cream of tartar works better than lemon juice to stabilize meringue. If you’re not following this recipe, a good formula is to add ⅛ teaspoon of cream of tartar for every egg white you plan to use. If you don’t have any on hand, use ½ teaspoon lemon juice for every egg white. However, if you happen to have a copper-lined bowl, it’ll produce the same effect, so you don’t have to use any acid when using copper.
- Take your time: Don’t rush the process. Start out with the mixer at medium speed, and gradually increase the speed every few minutes. And don’t add the sugar syrup until the whites form soft peaks. Then the slower you add it, the better it’ll blend into the whipped whites.
- Use promptly: Once you stop beating the egg whites, it’s best to move quickly. The longer they sit before they’re baked in the oven, the more likely that they could sink and sag. Don’t let that air you worked so hard to achieve get out!
- Meringue without a mixer. This is how it was done in the old days, but it’s quite a workout, so I don’t recommend it. If you’re looking for an affordable mixer, try this one.
How do you keep meringue from cracking? To avoid cracks in your baked meringues, be sure that your oven is fully warmed, but not too hot before baking the meringue.
Avoiding weeping meringue. First of all, if possible, make meringue pie on dry, low-humidity days.
Also, don’t over bake your meringue! Over baking causes the egg whites in the meringue to shrink and squeeze out small droplets of moisture. Always make sure to check on your pie at the minimum baking time.
Finally, make sure your pie filling is still warm when you top it with meringue, and spread the topping from end to end so it forms a good bond with the filling.
If you’re making meringue for cookies or kisses, try adding a little flavor to the meringue at the stiff peak stage. Add a drop or two of citrus or peppermint essential oil, some sifted cocoa powder, finely ground nuts, coconut, or even Jello powder to give your cookies a subtle flavor.
How do you store meringue?
Meringue-topped pies are best on the day you make them, and should be refrigerated after serving.
If you’re making crisp cookies, kisses, or pavlovas, store them in an airtight container at room temperature in a dry location.
How to Make Meringue
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 egg whites at room temperature (they whip faster)
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- ⅛ teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- To prepare a basic meringue, separate the egg whites and place in a very clean glass or metal bowl (plastic bowls can have a greasy film that prevents foaming). Try to separate the eggs without leaving even a trace of yolk in the whites as the fat in the yolk can prevent the whites from developing the volume you want.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring sugar and water to boil and cook until mixture is slightly thickened and syrupy, about 3 to 4 minutes (235 degrees on a candy thermometer). Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
- In a standing mixer fit with the whisk, or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt together on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute.
- Increase mixer speed to medium-high and whip until whites are shiny and soft peaks form, about 1 to 3 minutes.
- Reduce mixer speed to medium and slowly drizzle warm syrup (avoid the whisk attachment and sides of bowl). Add vanilla, increase speed to medium-high, and whip until mixture has cooled slightly and is very thick and shiny, about 3 to 6 minutes.
- Pile the meringue onto your warm dessert and bake 425 degrees (218 degrees Celsius) for about 4 to 5 minutes - just enough to gently brown the peaks.