Thursday, November 29, 2007
The Perfect Meringue
For on top of a pie, that is. (Meringue for other things – cookies, icings, etc. – I'll cover later.)
I have spent, oh God, about a bazillion hours over the course of my lifetime trying to perfect just the right mile-high, melt-in-your-mouth meringue with which to top all manner of pies and cakes.
It's an obsession that led to much wailing and extra time on the treadmill, but, alas, no perfect meringue. Until my stepfather gave me for my birthday about five years back a set of Williams-Sonoma cookbooks. Inside one of them, Pie and Tart, is the Holy Grail of all pie topping meringues (insert parting the heavens theme music here).
In my opinion, it's what makes the Lemon Ice Box Pie, recipe to follow tomorrow, worth living for.
What:1 scant tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water4 large egg whites, separated and at room temperature (but separate them right after coming out of the fridge – it's easier)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
In a small saucepan, whisk together cornstarch and water. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens into an almost paste-like consistency. This happens pretty quickly (within about a minute), so watch carefully. As soon as it begins to thicken remove from heat and whisk until smooth. Cool completely.
This is how it will probably look:
Place room temperature egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the balloon whip attachment. On high speed, whip until foamy.
Then, reduce speed to medium and whip while slowly sprinkling in the 1/2 cup of sugar. Return to high speed and whip until whites form a ribbon that folds back on itself when beater is raised, about 1-2 minutes:
Stir in cornstarch mixture and beat on high speed until shiny, soft peaks form, about 2-3 minutes:
Resist all impulses to shovel spoonful after spoonful into mouth while vegging out in front of the television (making meringue is haaaard!)
Instead, top pie, forming fun spikes or curlicues (or, if you're emmak, naughty bits) and bake in 375 degree oven until the peaks brown, about 15 minutes.