Is there anything more beautiful on a lemon pie than a perfect meringue topping? I can't imagine a traditional lemon pie without it. Besides making an attractive pie, the meringue is lower in calories than whipped cream. A dollop (1 tablespoon) of whipping cream has approximately 52 calories. One dollop of meringue has only 5 calories.
I usually associate meringue with the billowy peaks atop a pie, but meringue can also be piped with a pastry bag and dried in an oven to make a fluffy cookie to be eaten alone or as a compliment to other desserts.
Meringue is basically egg whites and sugar. The meringue is light and fluffy because of the egg whites. When whipped, egg whites expand up to 8 times their original volume. Sugar, the second ingredient, not only adds sweetness but also aids in making the mixture more firm. The more sugar that is used in the meringue the harder the meringue will be. Softer meringue is traditionally used as a pie topping and the harder meringue is used for piping into shapes.
For a quality meringue always use a super fine or ultra-fine sugar. A finer sugar keeps the meringue mixture from being lumpy and gritty. Fine sugar, when whipped will peak the meringue much faster than regular granulated sugar.
It is helpful when reading a recipe that calls for egg whites to know the different stages of whipping an egg.
- Foamy: a foam that looks like cloudy bubbles
- Soft peaks: A white foam that can be pulled into peaks but they won't hold
- Firm peaks: Glossy peaks that will curl but not stand
- Stiff peaks: Glossy and stiff and are stiff enough to cut
Another important step is to make sure all utensils are squeaky clean. Any oily residue will keep the meringue from forming correctly.
Glass or metal bowls work best. Never use plastic bowls. They can retain a slight residue that will deflate the egg whites.
Eggs should be room temperature before beating. You will get more volume from the egg white.
Egg whites should be separated with no residue of yolk. Even a tiny bit of egg yolk will wreck a meringue. If you need to get a speck out uses a metal spoon and not your fingers.
Don't over beat the egg whites. Start out medium low speed; gradually move up to medium high.
Beat egg whites until frothy; gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla or other flavoring. Spoon the meringue onto pie, spreading to crust edge to seal filling. Bake at 325° for 15 to 18 minutes, until nicely browned.
Tip: Some cooks like to add a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in warm water. In the cookbook Cookwise, Shirley Corriher, the author, suggests blending a tablespoon of cornstarch with ⅓ cup of water; add a little heat to the mixture until it thickens, adding it to the meringue a tablespoon at a time after you have beaten all of the sugar into the eggs. She says it keeps the meringue from shrinking, lowers the chance that beads will form on the surface and creates a meringue that is tender and easy to cut smoothly.
Tip: Always add the meringue to the pie while the filling is hot. This will keep the meringue from shrinking and weeping. A weeping meringue is generally caused by the meringue not cooking enough on the bottom.
By using the right sugar and technique when making your meringue you will receive the perfect shape, texture and taste of a perfect meringue.
Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2008
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