Pillowy, soft, and cloud-like, pies covered with meringue are some of the prettiest treats in the bakery display. Whether it is lemon meringue pie, a baked Alaska, a berry pavlova, or meringue cookies, they all start with the same basic meringue recipe and technique of whipping egg whites until light and frothy, then baking or adding to the pie and toasting with a torch or in the oven.
What is Meringue?
It is said that the technique for making meringue started in the Swiss village of Meiringen and was then improved by an Italian chef named Gasparini between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.
Today, there are four distinct types of meringues, each with their own way to prepare them.
- French Meringue: Prepared by beating together egg whites and sugar.
- Italian Meringue: Made by boiling sugar syrup, then slowly adding the sugar syrup into the bowl while the egg whites are whipping. This method makes a very stable meringue and can be used in buttercream frosting.
- Swiss Meringue: Prepared by whipping egg whites and sugar over a bain-marie (or double boiler) and creates a glossy marshmallow finish.
- Vegan Meringue: Made using aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) and sugar that is whipped.
How To Make Meringue For Pies
To begin, grab the oldest eggs you have in your fridge and set them on the counter to warm to room temperature. You can also do this by placing the egg in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds. Egg whites whip easier when warmer and older.
Once your eggs have come to temperature, set out three small bowls to separate the eggs. To prevent egg yolk from coming in contact with the egg whites, I usually set aside three bowls; one for the yolks, one for the whites, and one to break the egg into. Grab an egg, crack it, then let the whites drop into the bowl. Add the yolk to the yolk bowl and transfer the white to the white bowl. Repeat this process until all the room temperature eggs are separated.
Transfer the egg whites to a clean mixing bowl or the stainless steel bowl of your stand mixer. Add in 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar for every large egg white you are beating and turn the electric mixer to medium-high speed. If you do not have this on hand, 1/2 tsp of lemon juice does the trick.
Beat egg whites until foamy then start to add sugar one tablespoon at a time. Depending on what the recipe calls for, here is what you are looking for:
- Soft peaks: When beaters are lifted, the meringue will be glossy and fall over.
- Firm peaks: When beaters are lifted, the meringue will be glossy with longer and firmer peaks that fall over.
- Stiff peaks: When beaters are lifted, the meringue will be glossy and stiff peaks will hold.
For topping a pie filling, the perfect meringue should be whipped until stiff peaks form and then baked at an oven temperature of 400F until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Let the pie cool completely then enjoy.