When teaching high school students how to make meringue I have found that being the novice cooks as they are it is extremely hard for them to get this meringue correct.
I could probably write a book on the how-to’s for making meringue. The information is boundless and somewhat overwhelming.
There are all types of meringues. One for pies, which is a softer meringue, then you have a hard or Swiss meringue that is used as a foundation for fruits or puddings.
A cooked or Italian meringue for frostings using boiled sugar syrup.
I’m zoning in on the meringue that is used for pies and puddings. It is the basic meringue.
If this one is done correctly it will be easy to get the others down pat. Here are a few things that should be followed from the start.
Tips on How to Prepare Meringue
• Most critical in making meringue is humidity. Choose a clear, dry day.
• Eggs should be separated right from the refrigerator. COLD
• Egg whites should be beaten at room temperature. That means after separating them they should sit out for about 30 minutes.
• Beat egg whites in a glass, stainless steel, or copper bowl. Do not use an aluminum bowl. Aluminum will turn the whites grey in color.
• Do not use a plastic bowl. Plastic holds fat which will inhibit the formation of egg foam.
• Use very clean utensils.
• Make sure your hands are clean.
• When separating the eggs, be careful not to break the yolk. Even the tiniest bit of yolk in the white will inhibit the formation of foam and you will end up with a soupy mess. No matter how long you beat the eggs it will not work. Just start over.
• If you are unsure of how to use the eggshell to separate the eggs use an egg separator or use your hands.
• Use superfine sugar or put regular sugar in the food processor and process until fine. Use 2 tablespoons per egg for soft meringue and 4 tablespoons for hard meringue. Add sugar one to two tablespoons at a time. Beating after each addition.
• An easy way to tell if the sugar has dissolved is to rub a bit of the meringue between the forefinger and thumb. You should feel no sugar crystals.
• Use cream of tartar as a stabilizer for the egg whites. It should be added after the eggs are beaten to a foam. As a rule use 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar for each egg. In most recipes that I checked no matter if using 2 or 4 eggs no more than a ¼ teaspoon was used for a soft meringue.
Here are the step by step pictures:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small deep bowl, beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla at medium speed until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.
3. Add sugar 1-2 tablespoons at a time, beating at the highest speed until stiff glossy peaks form and sugar is dissolved. Rub the mixture between the forefinger and thumb to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.
4. Spoon meringue over hot filling; spread to the edge of the crust to prevent shrinkage during baking.
5. Use the back of a spoon to make swirls in the meringue. Avoid peaks because they will burn.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.