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Making a Perfect Meringue

Perhaps you are searching for a lemon meringue pie just like the ones your grandmother made, or one like the peanut butter meringue pie your best friend in school made. There is just something about that soft, light, sweet topping that satisfies the cravings of the soul. While a perfect meringue may seem to be a distant memory, forever beyond the reach of mere mortals, with these tips you too can produce pies of which memories are made.

Common Problems

Beading, weeping, and shrinking are common complaints. Overcooking causes beading, formation of water droplets on the surface. Weeping, loss of water between the meringue and the pie filling is caused by undercooking. Shrinking is a loss of volume during baking. It is possible to make a pie with one or even all these problems. Never fear, follow these simple steps, and success will be yours.

The Basics

Use a clean, dry bowl. The bowl must be grease free, because any amount of fat will wreck a meringue. Glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and copper bowls are all suitable. Plastic bowls may appear clean, but may still have trace amounts of oil; do not use them. Cold eggs separate easily, but eggs whip to a higher volume when at room temperature. The solution is to separate the cold eggs, and then set them aside for 10 or 15 minutes. Separate each egg into two small bowls, one for the white and one for the yolk, and then add the white portion to the larger bowl. This allows you to reserve any with broken yolks for another purpose. Even a small amount of yolk can deflate the egg whites, so be careful.

Ingredients and Method

Many people have great success using cream of tartar, white vinegar, or lemon juice to stabilize the meringue. Add 1/8 teaspoon of one of these per egg white to the unbeaten eggs. If you are using a copper bowl to whip the egg whites in the addition of the cream of tartar is not necessary. Whip to medium soft peaks. Beat in 2 tablespoons white sugar per egg white. Continue to beat until egg whites are glossy and hold a firm peak. A never fail method for producing the perfect meringue is one that uses a cornstarch and water mixture. Stir together, and heat to form a gel. Beat gradually into the meringue. This is an excellent way to avoid shrinking problems.

The Never ~ Ever ~ Fail Meringue recipe is an example of this technique.

Spread meringue over piping hot filling, and spread to the edges to seal. Hot filling is necessary to insure that the inside of the meringue cooks, preventing weeping. Hint: fine cake crumbs sprinkled lightly over the filling will absorb liquid between the layers, another preventative against weeping. The preferred baking method is one that combines high temperatures with a short baking time. This prevents overcooking the outside, and thus beading is avoided. Bake at 425 degrees F { 220 degrees C } for 4 to 5 minutes.

Safety

When cooking with eggs, safety is always a concern. There are several ways to insure that your meringue is safe. One is baking at a moderate temperature, 350 degrees F { 175 degrees C }, for a longer period, 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can try heating the unbeaten egg whites,gently combined with the other meringue ingredients, in a hot water bath to 160 degrees F { 70 degrees C }. You will need to measure the temperature at frequent intervals to avoid ending up with very sweet scrambled eggs. Remember to wash the thermometer between each measurement; a dirty thermometer will contaminate your sterilized mixture. Beat to stiff peaks. These eggs will probably require a longer beating time to achieve the best volume possible. See also our egg safety tips .

Some people find it hard to make a good meringue like some people find it hard to make a good pastry shell. I am enclosing this recipe for the ones who need to make it without too many problems encountered.

Original recipe yield:

pie's worth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg whites
6 tablespoons white sugar
1 pinch salt

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DIRECTIONS:
Blend cornstarch and cold water in a saucepan. Add boiling water, and cook until thick and clear. Cool completely
Beat egg whites till foamy. Gradually beat in sugar, beating until stiff and glossy. Add salt and vanilla, and slowly beat in cold cornstarch mixture. Beat quickly for several minutes. Spread meringue on filled,cooled 9 inch pie.
Bake at 350 degrees F { 175 degrees C } for 10 minutes.


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