The perfect meringue is a lofty, yet very attainable, goal for any baker. Achieving that crowning glory of pillowy softness inside and browned exterior is no easy task — but professional baker Anna Olson has you covered with a few tips and tricks to make sure your next meringue attempt doesn’t fall flat.
Let’s start by breaking down meringue by type. Depending on the stability required, meringue techniques can vary from a simple whip and serve to a more complicated cooked syrup version:
This is simply egg whites with granulated sugar, sometimes with cream of tartar or lemon juice added for stability. The whites are whipped to a medium peak, which Anna describes as “peaks with a curve, but not a full curl when the beaters are lifted”. This method is used for the pretty swirls you see atop lemon meringue or other pies, and is often browned once frosted.
A method that takes the simple meringue one step further by heating the egg whites and sugar over a water bath until gently warmed (for those reluctant to pull out a double boiler, a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water will also work). The warmed egg white mixture is then put into a mixer and whipped into a meringue, which sets as it cools. You’ll see this technique used for pavlovas, meringue cookies or anywhere you want a little more stability and firmness once baked.
This is the zenith of meringue firmness — Anna calls it “the magical combination of whipping hot sugar syrup into softly whipped egg whites.” By melting sugar (and sometimes honey) to a specific temperature, then whipping it with egg whites, this extra thick meringue can be used for marshmallows and other candy (Anna makes torrone, a type of Italian nougat candy with pistachios, almonds and citrus zest). You can also use this method for key lime pie, a cousin to the ubiquitous lemon meringue.
Ready to get started? Here are Anna’s 10 secrets to achieving the perfect meringue for lemon pie.
1. Don’t Over-Whip
One of the hardest things for novice bakers (and even some pros) to judge is how much is too much when it comes to whipping egg whites. Over-whipped egg whites look kind of craggy, , and when you touch them, they start to collapse. You don’t want to bake with over-whipped eggs, because whatever you bake will fall once it hits the heat of the oven.
A quick fix? A little bit of time: let the eggs sit, and after about 10 minutes, the mixture will start separating. Even if you’ve added sugar, you can whip those egg whites on medium speed back to the point you missed the first time.
2. Keep Thing Hot
When topping a pie, make sure your filling is hot when you’re ready to put on your meringue, says Anna. The reason you don’t want to put a layer of meringue on a cold filling is to prevent condensation — that layer of dew in between the lemon filling and the meringue. Keeping the filling hot when spreading on the meringue ensures a nice even layer without gaps or weeping (either from the pie or the cook).
3. Pretty Peaks
Want to get the same Instagram-worthy swirls and flourishes you see in the bakery window? In her recipe for , Anna recommends adding half the meringue and using a bamboo skewer or paring knife to swirl and secure it to the lemon curd. Then, dollop the remaining meringue onto the pie and use the back of your spatula to lift up the meringue and create spikes.
4. Stir, Stir, Stir
If you’re making an Italian meringue, you’ll be standing by the stove for a bit: that you stir the sugar mixture constantly when you’re bringing it up to the initial stage of 280°F to prevent it from boiling over. Between 280°F and 315°F (the final stage), you can take a break and ease off the stirring — the danger of an overflowing pot is past.
5. Safety First
To prevent spatters when putting hot sugar syrup into a mixer going at high speed, : pour it down the side of the bowl — it will bypass the beaters entirely and go to the bottom without splashing a single drop. You’ll be able to tell when the mixture cools and thickens by the sound of the motor, and by touching the side of the bowl.
6. Connect the Dots
When smoothing your meringue over the pie filling, make sure it connects with the crust — that little connection kind of latches the meringue in place, . Use a spatula and even, long strokes to smooth the thick meringue onto the pie, making sure you don’t press too hard, deflating your meringue and, even worse, staining the pristine white fluffiness with flecks of filling.
7. Perfect Piping
For pro-level piping to top mini lemon meringue pies, cupcakes, eclairs or even profiteroles, scoop your meringue into a piping bag (be sure to prep your fillings first). involves piping evenly and in one concentric motion for round desserts, or using a slight back and forth wave for an eclair. Any mistakes can be scraped off for a second attempt — we won’t tell.
8. Time for the Torch
Although meringue will set on its own, those dramatic dark touches of colour can be added with a butane kitchen torch to brown the meringue. Don’t have a creme brûlée torch? Take a tip from Anna’s recipe for and turn the desserts out onto a parchment-lined baking tray, pipe and then bake the meringues for two minutes in a 450°F oven.
9. Cool it Down
Even if you’re tempted to dive right in, it’s very important that once you’ve baked your meringue, you let your pie cool completely before slicing into it. The reward for your patience? Pretty, even slices with distinct meringue and filling layers.
10. Keep Things Fresh
Sadly, lemon meringue desserts aren’t meant for keeping. Anna advises making the pie the day you plan to serve it in order to show off your perfect meringue at its finest. Don’t worry — with a pie this good, you’ll have no problem indulging in seconds.