What is meringue? Essentially, egg whites mixed with cream of tartar and a little sugar, then whipped into submission. What is cream of tartar? It’s a white powder (technically, it’s potassium bitartrate) that helps to stabilize the egg whites and increase their volume. Basically, it makes the egg whites get their act together and whip up to make a stiff meringue.
Many people are intimidated by making a meringue. Yes, there are many, many things that can go wrong and make for an extremely frustrated baker….and an ugly dessert. But no worries, I’m here to give you pointers on how to get it right.
First, a recipe. Then, keep reading for a few tips!
Basic Meringue Pie Topping
Makes…. not sure. Enough to cover an 8″ pie (coconut cream pie, etc).
- 4 egg whites, room temp
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- Pinch salt
- 5 Tbsp sugar (plus one more if you like it pretty sweet)
First, start with a super clean bowl. You don’t want anything to interfere with the egg whites whipping up. They’re pretty finicky.
When frothy, sprinkle in the cream of tartar and the salt. Continue whipping at medium to high speed until soft peaks form. They look like this:
Once you get soft peaks, slowly add in the sugar while continuing to whip at medium to high speed. Whip just until firm peaks form. Don’t over whip!!! The egg whites will start to deflate if you do. Stop when it looks like this:
Finally, spread the meringue on your pie and seal all around the edges. Make a pretty design by moving and lifting the spatula all around the top so peaks/waves form. (Very technical, I know <sarcasm> but I’m not sure how to describe this step. Just make a funky little pattern on top if you like a little more visual interest to your pie)
You can also make meringue cookies or a meringue shell for berries…but more on that some other time.
- It’s easier to separate the egg yolk from the whites if the eggs are cold. Then, cover the egg whites and keep them out until they reach room temperature (no longer than 30 minutes!). Use the yolks for another purpose, like making a cream pie custard.
- You want all of your tools to be clean: bowl, spatula, mixing attachment. This way, nothing interferes with the whites whipping.
- Why not just add everything at the beginning and start whipping? The egg whites need a little stability before adding cream of tartar…and a lot of stability before adding sugar. If they aren’t ready for the added weight/ingredient, the egg whites will either deflate or you’ll end up with a dull meringue that hasn’t reached it’s full potential.
- Overwhipping will lead to a runny, deflated meringue.
- You need to bake the meringue to prevent any potential of Salmonella poisoning.
- Don’t use Splenda instead of sugar! I’ve tried this a few times and can never get the right consistency.
- Better to use real egg whites instead of the liquid egg whites you buy in a box. Real whites whip better.
- Be patient!!! It takes time. Egg whites are stubborn, but will give in eventually.