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Mastering Meringue Textures

A baking tray with 5 meringue nests with lemon curd and soft meringue on top

Making meringue can sometimes seem like a whimsical art, highly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the environment or ingredients. We are all familiar with the guidelines regarding the need for clean bowls and equipment. And to avoid any oil or fat, as they can negatively affect this delicate mixture. Nevertheless, what we’re talking about today are the different types of meringue, and the factors that play a crucial role in determining whether a meringue will turn out soft or crunchy. Let’s check them out.

The texture of meringue is largely determined by:

  1. Sugar Ratio: Generally, the more sugar you add, the crunchier the meringue will be. Sugar absorbs moisture, so a higher sugar content results in a drier and, therefore, crunchier meringue.
  2. Whipping Technique: For a softer meringue, you want to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, but be careful not to overbeat them, which can make the meringue turn crumbly, causing it to weep or collapse.
  3. Cooking Temperature and Time: Lower temperatures and longer cooking times result in drier, crunchier meringues, as they allow the meringue to dehydrate slowly and evenly. Higher temperatures for a shorter time will cook the outside quickly but keep the inside softer.
  4. Humidity: Humidity is the nemesis of meringue. On humid days, meringues can absorb moisture from the air and become soft or sticky, even if they start out crunchy.
A silicone mat with meringue dots in rows drying out,
Meringue dots drying out in an oven ready to use on desserts

Here’s how you can achieve each texture:

For a Soft Meringue:

  • Use a ratio of about 50g of caster sugar for each egg white.
  • Whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry.
  • Bake at a higher temperature for a shorter time (around 15 minutes).

A classic soft meringue recipe (for lemon meringue pie etc):

  • 90 g egg whites (3 exlarge egg whites)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (to stabilise the whites)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (for flavour)

Method for Soft Meringue:

  1. Preheat your oven to 160°C fan (325°F)
  2. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until soft peaks form.
  3. Gradually add the sugar while continuing to beat until the sugar is dissolved, the mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  5. Spoon the meringue over your lemon filling, making sure to seal the edges at the crust.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the meringue is golden.

For a Crunchy Meringue:

  • Use a higher ratio of sugar to egg whites, sometimes up to 100g of caster sugar per egg white.
  • Ensure the sugar is well-dissolved during whipping for a finer texture.
  • Bake at a lower temperature for a longer time (1 to 2 hours), and possibly leave in the oven to cool down slowly, which continues the drying process.

A recipe example for a crunchy meringue:

  • 120g of egg whites (4 large egg whites)
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method for Crunchy Meringue:

  1. Preheat your oven to around 100°C (212°F) for a conventional oven. If you’re using a fan-forced oven, which circulates hot air and can cook foods more quickly, you would usually reduce this by about 15-20 degrees, so you might set it to 80-85°C (176-185°F).
  2. In a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
  3. Add the sugar gradually, continuing to beat until the mixture is stiff and the sugar is well dissolved.
  4. Fold in the vanilla extract.
  5. Spread or pipe the meringue onto a lined baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 1 to 2 hours or until the meringues are crisp and dry.
  7. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool down inside the oven for several hours or overnight to achieve maximum crunchiness.

Remember, you’re looking for that glossy, stiff peak stage when you lift the beaters out of the bowl; the meringue should hold its shape!

Classes if you are local (Melbourne) or Zooms from anywhere 🙂

Every kitchen and every oven is a little bit different, so it may take a few tries to get your meringue just the way you like it. Don’t be discouraged by the variables; consider each attempt a step closer to your perfect pie!

Tips for a crunchy topped lemon meringue pie

Achieving a crunchy top on your lemon meringue pie without compromising the delicate lemon filling underneath involves a few careful steps: Here is a recipe (you’ll need a Cookidoo subscription) for a Lemon meringue pie. This recipe will give you a soft marshmallow textured meringue, so you’ll want to add more sugar to achieve a crunchy top. 👆

  1. Pre-cook the Lemon Filling: Make sure your lemon filling is fully cooked and completely cooled before you add the meringue. A hot or warm filling can start cooking the base of the meringue, leading to a weepy layer between the meringue and the filling.
  2. Stabilize Your Meringue: Use an Italian meringue that involves cooking sugar syrup and adding it to whipped egg whites. It’s more stable and less likely to weep or shrink away from the filling.
  3. Bake Meringue Properly: To achieve a crunchy meringue, bake it at a low temperature for a longer period. For a pie, you have to balance this with not overcooking or browning the meringue too much. Start at a higher temperature, say 160°C (325°F ) fan, just until the peaks are golden, which should take about 5 to 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to about 80°C (180°F) and bake for an additional hour to slowly crisp up the meringue. Fan-forced ovens are typically 20°C hotter than a conventional oven, so if you don’t have a fan setting, don’t forget to increase the temperature accordingly.
  4. Seal the Edges: When you apply the meringue to the pie, make sure it connects with the crust all around the edges. This helps to prevent the meringue from shrinking and pulling away from the sides as it bakes.
  5. Cooling: Let the pie cool gradually in a turned-off oven with the door slightly ajar. This helps prevent sudden temperature changes, which can cause condensation and softening of the meringue and will allow any moisture to escape in the form of steam.
  6. Serving Immediately: Crunchy meringue pies are best served shortly after they are made. This will ensure the topping has its best texture before it starts to absorb moisture from the air or the filling.

By following these tips, you should be able to enjoy a lemon meringue pie with a delightfully crunchy top and a perfectly preserved lemon filling beneath.

Lemon Meringue pie on a stainless steel benchtop.

Storing your lemon meringue pie

Storing a lemon meringue pie in the fridge is a bit of a balancing act. The refrigerator can help keep the pie fresh, but it can also introduce moisture, which is likely to soften the meringue over time. If you must refrigerate your pie, here are a few tips to help maintain the crunch for as long as possible:

  1. Cool Completely: Before refrigerating, allow your pie to cool completely at room temperature. This minimizes the risk of condensation forming under the meringue, which could make it soggy.
  2. Loose Covering: Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap or aluminium foil to protect it, but don’t seal it tight, as this could trap moisture.
  3. Short Storage Time: The sooner you consume the pie, the better the chances the meringue will retain some crunch. Ideally, eat the pie within a day or two of making it.
  4. Avoid Humidity: If your refrigerator tends to be on the humid side, storing the meringue pie in it might not be the best option as the humidity can quickly soften the meringue.
  5. Revive the Crunch: If you find the meringue has softened, you can try reviving it by putting the pie back into a preheated oven at a low temperature of around 160°C or 325°F for a fan-forced oven for 10 to 15 minutes to re-crisp the meringue. However, this runs the risk of overcooking the filling or causing the meringue to become too dark.

If crunchiness is your priority, it’s best to plan to serve your meringue pie the same day you make it. The refrigerator will inevitably introduce moisture over time, and the delicate, crispy structure of the baked meringue will soften regardless of the precautions you take.

Meringue Nests with Crunchy base and soft tops

Ready for a chef’s secret to get stunning meringue nests with a twist? Let’s venture into the world of texture play!

A baking tray with 5 meringue nests with lemon curd and soft meringue on top.

Step 1: Crafting the Crunchy Meringue Base

First things first, whip up your meringue mixture until it’s glossy and stiff. Then, pipe it onto a lined baking sheet – trust me, even the best non-stick pans will need a little baking paper – to create little nests or shallow bowls that’ll cradle your filling later on.

Slide them into a low-heat oven, about 95°C (200°F), and remember to notch it down if you’re fan-forcing it, and let the magic happen slowly. You want them dry and crisp, which might take 1-2 hours, depending on how thick you’ve made them. My little secret? I do this later in the evening, then crack the oven door and let them cool overnight. The following day, they’re perfect – no unwanted moisture!

Once they’re cool (if you’ve left them overnight, that shouldn’t be an issue), pop them into an airtight container until they’re called up for duty.

Step 2: The Soft Meringue

Now, don’t rush to unite the bases with their filling – keep ‘em apart, or you’ll run the risk of softening the crunch you’ve worked hard to achieve. When it’s showtime, choose a filling that won’t melt away in the heat of the oven – think lemon curd or silky caramel, anything you can bake for a short time. Gosh, even drained tinned fruit would work. You could use the lemon curd from within this lovely Lemon Cake recipe.

With your soft meringue ready, pipe it gently onto the filled bases right before you plan to serve. This keeps your meringues as the ultimate duo of crunch and fluff.

Step 3: The Final Toast

Crank up the oven to a cozy 175°C (350°F), adjusting for those fan-forced, and give your pies a quick tan – just 10-15 minutes until golden. Or, for the brave, a blow torch can create that perfect brûlée top in moments.

Then, let them take a breather outside the oven to avoid any weepy regrets.

By layering a soft meringue atop a crunchy base, you’re crafting an experience – a bite that crunches, then melts in the mouth. But beware, this balancing act can be as tricky as a high-wire act. Moisture is a stealthy foe.

So there you go. Master the making of meringue allows you to confidently make some wonderful creations, so lets get baking 🙂

4 Comments

  1. I like chewy meringues. Crisp and beautiful on the outside, but a chewy centre. What do you suggest for these. I’m wondering if it’s the crispy version, cooked for less time. My mothers recipes beat the whites over a pot of boiling water. Is this the tip?
    I laughed about the moisture/humidity. As a teenager my mother had always said you can’t make meringues on a rainy day, but of course I had to try it. She was right! A complete failure.
    A great blog. Meringues always look impressive, keep for ages, and any failures or damaged ones can be crushed for desserts. What’s not to love?

    1. Good question Janet. Here’s what I would do. Chewy meringues need the right balance of cooking time and temperature, as well as a slightly different ratio of ingredients. Here’s what you would typically use for a chewy meringue:

      Ingredients for Chewy Meringue:

      4 large egg whites (approximately 120 grams)
      250 grams caster sugar (also known as superfine sugar)
      1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice (to stabilise the egg whites)
      1 teaspoon cornstarch (this helps create a chewy texture)
      1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (for flavour)
      Directions for Baking Chewy Meringue:

      Preheat your oven to 120°C (250°F) for a conventional oven. For a fan-forced oven, reduce the temperature to about 100-105°C (212-221°F).

      Line your baking sheets with baking paper.

      In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, while continuing to beat. The mixture should become glossy and form stiff peaks.

      Fold in the vinegar (or lemon juice), cornstarch, and vanilla extract gently until just combined.

      Pipe or spoon the meringue mixture onto the prepared baking sheets.

      Place the meringues in the oven and bake for about 1 to 1.5 hours. What you’re looking for is a meringue that is dry to the touch but not coloured. The longer cooking time at a lower temperature allows the meringues to dry out without becoming too dark.

      Once baked, turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside to cool with the door slightly ajar for several hours or until completely cool. This helps prevent the meringues from cracking and keeps the inside chewy.

      Store the meringues in an airtight container at room temperature to maintain their chewiness. As you know, humidity will turn them soft and sticky, so keep them away from moisture.

      Each oven is different, so you may need to adjust the cooking time and temperature slightly. The key is to keep an eye on your meringues, look for that crisp shell and allow them to dry out slowly in the oven.

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