If there’s one dessert that’s earned itself a bad reputation, it’s meringue. And because people tend to see meringue as a tough recipe to master, many home bakers don’t ever attempt making a lemon meringue pie, stiff meringue cookies or macarons (which is essentially just meringue and almond powder). Bummer.
Thankfully, Jessica McGovern, the host of Flour Power (Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET), has some useful tips that’ll help you master this classic treat in no time at all. Sweet, melt-in-your-mouth meringue, here we come.
Don’t overmix the egg whites
This, folks, is where most people screw up in the meringue-making process.
“When the recipe says gently add the sugar, or fold in any other ingredients, you have to do that as carefully as possible to preserve the air that’s in there,” Jessica stated. “People will overbeat or treat it roughly, and that air will deflate and the meringue will spread too much and won’t be as fluffy as it could be. Try to keep as many tiny air bubbles in there as possible.”
In other words, the trick is to whip the egg whites until they’re thick and fluffy, and then to finish combining the other ingredients as gently as possible, without mixing it up too much.
Know the difference between soft peaks and stiff peaks
“When we’re whipping meringue, we talk about soft peaks and stiff peaks. Most meringue recipes will talk about stiff peaks, and you really want to go with whatever your recipe tells you to do,” McGovern explained. “Soft peaks means that you whip it until it’s fluffy and voluminous, and that when you lift up the whisk, the tips fall over. But that’s not so great if you’re making meringue nests or piping it, because it won’t be stiff enough.”
For firm peaks, you’ll want to make sure the peaks of meringue that form don’t droop over.
Use a stand mixer
Mixing all of the ingredients together is the most crucial part of meringue-making that’ll either make or break them. So Jessica suggested that using the right equipment — a stand mixer or electric beater — would make the process a lot easier. You could use a fork or handheld whisk, but you’ll be beating the mixture forever, and might even give up before it’s ready to go into the oven.
Watch the humidity
For the most part, the temperature of your environment doesn’t matter a whole lot when making meringue. Macarons, however, do need to be made in a dry environment — or else, they’ll be completely ruined by the humidity.
“Macarons are mostly meringue, and those need to dry out before going into the oven,” McGovern said. So be sure your kitchen is cool and dry before getting started on a macaron recipe.
Add a splash of cream of tartar
Although you’ve probably heard of this ingredient before, you’ve probably never really cared enough to find out what it’s used for. Well, you’re about to care about it a lot more.
“If you’re nervous about your egg whites not turning out fluffy, there’s an insurance policy you can use called cream of tartar,” Jessica assured us. “You can find it in most grocery stores. You just need to add a tiny bit… like a quarter or half teaspoon of it. This will really help with the structure of the egg whites.”
Keep the yolk out
If you want your meringue to come out perfectly, make sure that you don’t add a single drop of egg yolk.
“Most people think that if it’s a tiny speck, it won’t make a difference,” Jessica said. “But no, if you get any at all in it, you need to start again.” So mind your yolks, and put some care into separating them from the whites.
Fancy a simple meringue recipe to get started with? Then give this lemon meringue pie a shot — we dare you.