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12 Step Program for Mile High Meringue

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mile high meringue

In the south, we’re serious about a few things. Crispy Fried Chicken, luscious potato salad, fluffy biscuits on Sunday morning and Pie. Pie of all kinds ranks high on the southern cooks dessert list, but especially Meringue pies. Lemon, Chocolate, Coconut and Key Lime just scratch the surface of what a good southern cook can top with her perfect ‘mile high’ meringue. Don’t mention topping any of those pies with cool whip or whipped topping, you’ll be shooed from the kitchen faster than a black cat!

Southern cooks of all experience will tell you in a snap that their pride and joy is being able to make the perfect meringue for their pies. Its an art, but one that with a little practice, you can accomplish. (Not to be confused with Carrie, the merengue dancing dog)

Letterman removed this video.

She’s actually very talented ! (cute eh?) Ok, I had to  show you that!

I’ve been through the trials, the tribulations and failures of weepy meringues, flat meringues and just plain sticky gooey meringue that just doesn’t taste good.  So here are  my tips for the perfect meringue. (I don’t use cream of tartar or cornstarch to get these fluffy clouds of goodness, just time, love and a good mixer)

Be sure your utensils and your hands are scrupulously clean and perfectly dried.

  1. Start with eggs that are a few days old.  Any good southern cook will tell you that ‘perfectly fresh’ eggs don’t whip up as voluminously as eggs that are 3 days or so old.
  2. If you’re making a meringue pie, do it on a dry, non humid day.  Humidity =moisture in the air, if you’re whipping in air, that humidity will affect your meringue
  3. Separate your eggs while they’re cold. Its just easier to separate white from yolk when they’re cold and the tiniest bit of yolk will ruin a good meringue.
  4. Don’t use your hands to separate the egg yolk from the whites. I know its the most convenient way for most of us, but fat and oil can wreck a good meringue too!  Use a separator or just use the shells, transferring the yolk back and forth between the two  and letting the whites fall into  one bowl and the yolks into another.
  5. Use glass, copper or metal bowls and keep your hands out of the bowls and away from any surface that would touch the egg whites. Again, its the oil thing. Plastic bowls often retain oils from foods and the slightest oil from your hands will not help your meringue.
  6. After you’ve separated your egg whites from yolks, let them sit for about 30 minutes until they’ve reached room temperature. (about 70°).Its all about the foam, the bubbles the volume. Basically when you’re making meringue you’re whipping air into the egg whites, more air=more volume. A cold egg takes longer to whip than one at room temp  and a beaten egg white can foam to 6 to 8 times its original volume if the egg whites have been at room temperature for 30 minutes before beating. (so say the folks at the egg board)
  7. Don’t start beating your egg whites and take a break to chat on the phone or answer the door.  Once you’ve placed your egg whites in a tall bowl and attached your whisk attachment to your mixer, don’t stop until they reach the soft peak stage. Set your mixer to medium high and go for it.
  8. Add the sugar after the whites have reached the soft peak stage (they’re fluffy and when you lift the beater the peaks fold over the beater edge) . Superfine sugar works the best when making meringues. Don’t worry if you don’t have this in the pantry though, you can make your own using your food processor or blender by pulsing your sugar a few times to break the crystals up into smaller ones.
  9. Add your sugar in gradually. I use a tablespoon to do this, adding in about 1/4 cup of sugar per egg white. Sugar stiffens the foam of the egg whites and you can check to see if the sugar is completely dissolved by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your fingers. DON’T put your fingers into the meringue, use a clean spoon to dip some out. If it feels gritty, continue beating some more.
  10. Your pie meringue is done when you lift the beater out and the whites stand at attention! Again, don’t take a break during the process, start it and work it through and you’ll have the perfect  mile high meringue for your pies!
  11. Make your meringue first. Then make the pie filling.  The warmth from the pie filling begins the cooking process and makes the meringue less likely to shrink away from the sides of your pie crust.
  12. Baking longer and slower (325°) for about 25 minutes will help your meringue cook through better and give you those gloriously browned peaks.
  • Don’t put a meringue pie in the refrigerator. Store at room temp under a glass or metal bowl. If you store in the fridge, you’ll have leaky, weepy meringue.
  • Use a sharp knife dipped in water to cut meringue pies cleanly, wipe and dip in cool water between slices.

Meringue pies are lots of work, don’t misunderstand me, but they’re oh so yummy and you’ll revel in the joy from the folks around the table!

What are your best tips for great pies?  Got a favorite meringue recipe?  Share em with us!

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  1. Audrey at Barking Mad says

    The first lesson I learned, and the hard way I might add, was about meringues! I LOVE LOVE LOVE making Pavlova, which IS, meringues! Using fresh eggs was not the way to do it!

    I’m so glad you brought that point up. I think it’s really important to fluffy, high, WONDERFUL meringue!

    • Simple Plate says

      I love a mile high meringue… and even the little meringue goodies… but yeah…give those eggs a little time don’t shoot for the super fresh ones in the fridge.. you’ll never get that high and mighty fluff!

  2. TidyMom says

    Thanks for this awesome post!! My dad was a HUGE cream pie lover and mom always made a banana cream and coconut cream for him…….then suddenly she started having trouble with the meringue……I think it was getting all runny in the pie (under the meringue) I can’t remember exactly because it’s been about 8 yrs ago…….she never could figure out what was going wrong, when she never had the problem before………but dad passed away 7 years ago, and I don’t think she’s made a cream pie since then :-(

    I’ll have to share this post with her.

  3. Becca says

    I’m curious about one thing, do you ever add vanilla to flavor at all? Or let it go with just egg whites and sugar? Thanks! Great tips. I’ve had the hardest relationship with Meringue my whole life. Mostly it tastes great, but goes flat. =(

    • Debbie says

      never add flavoring. the egg whites will not come to a stiff peak. You’ll simply have cooked egg whites as the alcohol will interact and cook them

      • Tammy says

        Do you only use sugar and egg whites, mine calls for cream of tartar and some corn starch. My momma always used just egg whites and sugar but I have wondered why some call for this

        • Debbie says

          adding cream of tartar isn’t necessary nor is corn starch. If you’re making your meringue on a good dry day. The additives only make it have a funny taste

  4. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says

    I love lemon meringue pie. It is one of my all time favorites, but I have never attempted to make it myself, though.

    • Debbie says

      Although it might seem intimidating, its really easy, if you follow the tips. I’ve made my share of bad ones. But I love making it now.

  5. Jeannette says

    Thanks for these tips! I’ve always been a little intimated so I haven’t tried making meringue but I’ll be sure to try it after reading this!

    • Debbie says

      I just listened to my mama. Mine always were a fail, until I finally listened.. and bam!

  6. Alicia says

    My mom makes this kind of pie. It’s absolutely delicious! I am glad that I now have a recipe to go by, thanks to you!


    • Debbie says

      Meringue is the absolute best way to top any cream or refrigerated pie! Dump the coolwhip go with meringue!

  7. Crystal says

    Thanks for the inside scoop on making the most amazing meringue. My family’s sweet tooth (sweet teeth?) will be 100% satisfied tonight!

    • Debbie says

      yep, time to start practicing! Honestly I’ve had more fail than success over the years, but my lemon meringue pie (with the mile high meringue) is ALWAYS a hit!

    • Debbie says

      I can proudly tell you it’s an art! And it takes some time to get er done as they say, but so worth it!

    • Debbie says

      I do have trouble here in LA, the humidity is horrible, but turning the AC down while I’m working with it helps so much!

  8. Krissy says

    I first made meringue when I was in home ec in the 8th grade. I make a mean baked alaska! I will have to give this recipe a try though, it sounds delish!