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Nothin' better on a hot summer afternoon than a slice of cold pie... And nothin' says "summer" like a great big fluffy meringue topping over that slab of rhubarb/lemon/banana custard.

Unfortunately, mine haven't been turning out that way. They bake up nicely, but fall within a half hour of baking.

I whip egg whites mixed with 1/8 tsp cream of tartar (per egg) until they reach soft peaks, then mix in 1 tablespoon of sugar (per egg) while continuing to beat until it gets stiff - then spread over the hot pie filling and bake for 10-15 minutes at 400F. Topping doubles in size, then falls as it cools, ending somewhat less impressive than it started.

Any suggestions?

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See similar: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/748/… –  hobodave Jul 14 '10 at 21:19
    
You can use lemon juice. The juice let the egg white swell and should make the meringue more stable. I've never tried this myself though. –  Ladybug Killer Aug 20 '10 at 17:09
    
See problem notes for pav cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/9860/… –  TFD Jun 9 '12 at 22:00
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4 Answers 4

Ironically, it could be precisely because you're trying to enjoy the meringue on a hot day that is causing it to deflate so quickly. Meringue are extremely sensitive to moisture, and a humid day can wreck your meringue's volume. It's best to make meringue on a dry day.

However, there are a few things you can do to achieve better stability:

  1. Use fresher eggs.
  2. Fats are the enemy. Make sure you have zero egg yolk in the mixture. Also, avoid hand contact, as your oils can rub off.
  3. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved, because otherwise it attracts moisture.

Good luck!

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And because fats are such a problem, you'll likely have problems with plastic bowls (which are made from oil, and are very difficult to remove oil from). You should stick to metal or glass when whipping egg whites. –  Joe Apr 29 '11 at 14:21
    
Actually it's been pretty conclusively proven that egg yolks in your meringue are not a problem if you're using a machine to whip them. The reason why fat is a problem stems from the days when people were beating by hand; you didn't get enough shear fast enough to avoid the problems with the fat. –  daniel Apr 29 '11 at 23:24
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I struggle with this same problem; if I omit the cream of tartar (or cornstarch), then it stays nice and fluffy, no falling. Of course, then I have the problem of it "weeping," as discussed here.

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Piet Huysentruyt (a famous Belgian chef) advices to break and split your eggs, keep the egg whites in the fridge for a day or two, get them out and use them if they reach room temp.

And yes, in meringue, moisture is your enemy! It can help you, if you bake the meringue, to put a wooden spoon between your oven door, so that the vaporized moist can escape through the narrow opening.

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Seconding this. When I used to help our pastry chef make macarons, we always propped the oven door open to remove moisture. I now do it anytime I make meringue. –  daniel Apr 29 '11 at 23:25
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I let the pie cool before topping with the meringue and baking.

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