What does a meringue have in common with a Slinky?
Egg white proteins in their unwhipped state resemble a microscopic Slinky, waiting for the chance to be stretched. As the whisk agitates the egg white, the slinky starts to stretch, and bond with other egg white proteins, capturing air bubbles in the process, and creating a tower of delicious egg white, perfect on a pie!
With just a few techniques you can guarantee you will have a perfect meringue every time!
One of the biggest challenges in making meringue is sugar. As the meringue cooks, the dissolved sugar loses moisture and crystallizes. These long strands of sugar crystals resemble the framework of a house, providing structure to keep the meringue from sagging once it’s removed from the oven. The problem, is sugar also weighs down uncooked meringue, limiting its altitude. So how do you get maximum altitude, and still get the crucial structure? Simple, add the sugar when the egg white reaches the soft peak stage. But this presents another problem.
Adding granulated sugar too late in the whipping process is risky. What if the sugar doesn’t appropriately dissolve, and your velvety meringue is marred by pockets of large sugar crystals? When making a meringue, use powdered sugar. It dissolves instantly, and also includes small amounts of corn starch to help with stability. When substituting powdered sugar for granulated sugar, 1 cup of granulated sugar equals 1 3/4 cups of powdered sugar (powdered sugar has a smaller crystal size, and therefore holds much more air).
But why does every recipe I make call for Cream of Tartar? Cream of Tartar is the salt of tartaric acid, a byproduct of winemaking. It has a pH of 5, and helps the tightly packed egg white open up and make the transformation into a long strand. This gives your egg white volume as it allows your egg white to capture more air. It also prevents the sugar in your recipe from forming large crystals, meaning a smoother meringue. The perfect meringue to put on a pie!
Speaking of pie, what about those little brown drops on my meringue? How do I prevent “weeping meringue?” Even if your pie is made using the steps above, weeping can still be a problem. Weeping is caused by excess moisture in your pie escaping into the meringue after the meringue has started cooking. The cause of this moisture? -putting uncooked meringue on a cold pie. When meringue is put on a hot pie, the steam goes into the meringue and escapes before the eggs have a chance to set, thereby limiting weeping. But when meringue is put on a cold pie, the pie filling doesn’t start to produce steam until the meringue has set. This means all that moisture is captured in the meringue, and escapes in the form of little meringue teardrops.