How to Make the Best Meringues

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Humble and mysterious, an unbroken egg is “one of the most private things in the world,” the food writer M.F.K. Fisher wrote. But once cracked open, it reveals itself to be a flamboyant shape-shifter.

Depending on how you handle them, egg whites can metamorphose from a dense, viscous liquid into various altered states: soft and spoonable; firm and sliceable; or a billowing froth that’s an essential building block of gastronomy. Beaten egg white is the airy foundation of countless mousses, souffles, cakes and — the sweetest of all — sugary, glossy meringue. Making meringue isn’t difficult, but there are some best practices that will yield the most cloudlike results.

  • Fat is the enemy of fluff. The presence of fat can hinder how an egg white’s proteins trap air. Always use a clean bowl for beating and be very careful when separating the eggs to avoid any yolks from tainting the whites.

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  • Make sure your eggs are cold … Cold eggs are easier to separate than room-temperature ones. This will help keep the yolk intact, so it doesn’t bleed into the white.

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  • Use fresh (or previously frozen) egg whites. You can make meringue from pasteurized egg whites, but you have to beat them for a lot longer, and the results are never as voluminous.

  • Start low. For increased stability, always start beating your whites on low speed if using an electric mixer, then gradually increase the speed.

  • Add a little acid. Incorporating 1 teaspoon cream of tartar or 2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of egg whites helps prevent overbeating, which causes them to denature and become lumpy. A chemical reaction between a copper- or silver-plated bowl and egg whites can also prevent overbeating (this is why copper bowls are traditional for beating whites). If you whip your whites in copper or silver, you can skip the acid.

  • Be mindful of moisture. Meringues will weep and wilt when exposed to too much humidity. Try to make meringue on a dry day, and never store it in the fridge. An airtight container at room temperature is your best bet.

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