How to Make the Fluffiest Meringue Pie Topping You've Ever Tasted
Peaks and swirls of white, fluffy meringue are the crowning glory to some of the most beloved pies: vanilla cream, coconut cream, chocolate meringue, and lemon meringue. It may seem like a fancy dessert you only order at your favorite diner, but you can make homemade meringue at home. Once you know how to make meringue, you'll want to use it to top other desserts, too (think fruit crisp recipes or berry desserts). Here we'll teach you how to make perfect meringue with our step-by-step guide straight from our BH&G Test Kitchen. Prepare to enjoy light and airy (and sensationally sweet) meringue topping for pies.
How to Make Meringue
Start by following your recipe for making and baking the pie crust and filling in a pie pan ($5, Target). Then follow these steps for preparing the meringue. We're using a basic meringue recipe for pie in this demo.
Step 1: Separate Egg Whites
Separate the yolks from four eggs using an egg separator ($6, Bed Bath & Beyond). Place the whites in a large bowl. Let the egg whites stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Room temperature egg whites beat to a greater volume than egg whites taken directly from the refrigerator.
Step 2: Beat Egg Whites to Soft Peaks
Add 1 tsp. of vanilla and ½ tsp. cream of tartar before you begin beating the egg whites. You can learn how to make meringue without cream of tartar, but adding cream of tartar helps stabilize the meringue and prevent it from weeping, so we recommend using it.
Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium until soft peaks form. At this point, they will curl over when you lift the beaters.
Step 3: Add Sugar Gradually
Add ½ cup of sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, while beating on high speed. The sugar must be added gradually while you beat the egg whites to stiff peaks (tips stand straight). Adding the sugar too quickly will knock air out of the egg whites and make them difficult to mix thoroughly.
Step 4: Beat Meringue to Stiff, Glossy Peaks
Continue beating on high speed until the sugar dissolves and stiff, glossy peaks form. When you lift the beaters, the tips will stand straight up. The mixture should also feel smooth when you rub it between your fingers; you shouldn't be able to feel any sugar granules.
Test Kitchen Tip: Beading is a common problem for pie meringues and is caused by undissolved sugar. Beat until the sugar dissolves.
Step 5: Spread Meringue Over Filling
Quickly spread the meringue over the hot pie filling. Spread the meringue to the edge of the pie pastry to seal it and prevent it from shrinking as it bakes. The hot filling helps cook the meringue from underneath and prevents weeping (a layer of moisture that forms between the meringue and filling).
Step 6: Curl Meringue Peaks and Bake
To really make an impression with your baking skills, use a spoon to swirl and twist the meringue as you spread it. Those tips will get slightly browner during baking, which not only looks pretty but adds an amazing sweet crunch to your pie.
More Pro Tips on Making Meringue
Now you have the basics of how to make meringue for pie, but because this fluffy topper can be tricky, we've got a few additional tips that can help you avoid some of the most common meringue mishaps.
- Don't skip the standing time. Egg whites should stand at room temperature 30 minutes before beating to achieve the best volume.
- Use a large bowl ($7, Target) made of copper, stainless steel, or glass. Make sure bowls, beaters, and other utensils are extra clean and dry. Oil and other residues prevent the egg whites from beating properly.
- Small beads of moisture can form on the surface of the baked meringue, but you can prevent meringue from beading (or weeping) by being careful not to overbake it and by making sure all sugar is completely dissolved in the mixture.
How to Make Individual Meringues
Although it's hard to beat a fluffy meringue topping swirled on top of a pie, there are other ways to incorporate meringue in your baking. If you're making individual desserts, like mini pies or jars of fruit crisp, you can top each one with sky-high meringue. Here are two ways to do it.
- Spread the meringue into a ½-inch-thick rectangle on a foil-lined baking sheet. Use the back of a spoon to add swirls, which will brown more and give your meringue extra crunch. Brown the meringue by broiling 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 30 to 60 seconds, or use a culinary torch ($50, Crate & Barrel). Once it's browned, you can scoop portions onto individual desserts, or serve your meringue family-style and let everyone add their own dollop.
- If you'd rather make smaller meringue portions, spoon the meringue into eight to 10 dollops on a baking sheet lined with foil. Brown by broiling 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 30 to 60 seconds, or use a kitchen torch to brown each meringue separately. If you decide to use your broiler and the tops of each meringue brown too quickly, move the baking sheet down so it's farther from the heat. Then use the individual meringues to top mini desserts like our cherry-thyme crisps (pictured above).
Once you get the hang of how to make meringue for pie, try experimenting with other recipes. You can try your hand at an airy, gorgeous pavlova recipe or work on mastering how to make meringue cookies. No matter how you use it, a meringue will always make even ordinary desserts look stunning and taste indulgent.