RECIPE: Beating the Meringue Challenge

CRiegerNovember 24, 2003

Beating the Meringue Challenge

Over the years I have made meringues on pies with varied success mostly lousy. The meringues bled and wept. A common problem. What would start as mile high when the pie was put into the oven, it would shrink from a third to three quarters after coming out. The bleeding white liquid overflowed the pans, over the cooling rack and onto the counter to form a sticky pond much appreciated by ants that would come from miles around to feed at its edge.

I have tried to beat the problem by putting the meringue pies in the refrigerator hoping that a quick cooling would stop the bleeding. No it doesn't. I almost always followed the advice of the experts -- Emril, The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker and so forth who tell us to use room temperature whites. I figured the success of working with meringue was a matter of fastidious timing in adding the cream of tartar and the sugar, and stopping the whipping when the appropriate stiffness was arrived at. I tried all sorts of temperatures and cooking times. Only to meet with a variety of bad results.

A few times I had to use eggs straight out of the refrigerator and found they worked better. I also found that if I used frozen and thawed, room temperature whites, they worked better. Less shrinkage and weeping. But I dismissed these relative success to the fact I got something right in the timing.

Over the years I had asked people what they do. Upon occasion someone would say their mother beat cold whites in a cold bowl. I always said no, that was for whipping cream so it would not turn to butter. These people were not really too sure if they remembered correctly, and said no more. Once someone said their mother put an ice cube in with the egg whites. Of course I thought these people had to be wrong, because all the experts say use room temperature whites. Our mother had varied success. So we had no reference there.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my brother yet again about falling meringues. He likes to make angel food cakes and for years he said he was not satisfied with the results. One day he read a recipe that said to add "x" amount of very cold water to "y" number of whites. I told him I thought if any water was added to the whites, it would not work. He said no, that applied to fat. I said I knew that, but I thought it also applied to water. Apparently not.

I decided those people who said use very cold whites might have a point. So last week I whipped very cold frozen and thawed whites and -- voila! Practically no loss in height. Practically no bleeding. And was with using a hand-held mixer. The ants had to go hungry.

Ice cold whites. Ice cold mixing bowl. Ice cold mixing blades = a mile high meringue that will make people weep -- not the meringue. And it stays high when refrigerated. Quoth the Raven -- Weep no more.

I bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes, turning once.


Julia Child once said you cannot conquer French cooking until you can handle egg whites. If you want to conquer, try the cold.

Good luck on your Key Lime Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, Baked Alaska. And by the way, I have just bought a six quart mixer. It goes a long way to cutting down production time. For example, I made a quadruple recipe for Tres Leches in less than 20 percent of the time it usually takes.

Just about any stand mixer will do a faster job than a hand-held. Look for high wattage in mixers.

D. O. Christian Rieger

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I'll be darned. Thanks for the info! I thought climate had something to do with the weeping.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2003 at 5:33PM
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The fix for weepy meringue: Spread the meringue onto HOT filling.

The reason it becomes slippery on top of lemon pie filling is because it doesn't have time to cook when you're browning the top of the meringue in the oven. Therefore, the bottom becomes watery. If the filling is hot, it cooks the bottom part of the meringue.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2003 at 8:14PM
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I have seen people cook a marangue on a circle or foil....then slide it onto the pie.....
Looks very tricky...I never tried it....but I also don't have meringue problems.
Linda C

    Bookmark   November 27, 2003 at 9:27PM
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