You’d think after a recipe has been around for hundreds of years, the kinks would have been worked out. But in the case of meringues, cookbooks are filled with culinary warning signs. Words like “shrink,” “sweat” and “puddle” are everywhere. They’re enough to make anyone think twice before stepping into the kitchen to begin separating eggs. But if attention is paid to simple details, making sweet and airy meringues to adorn the tops of custard pies isn’t hard.
Take, for instance, making an orange meringue pie, a spin on an old-fashioned lemon meringue pie. First, once the hot filling goes into the crust, do not be tempted to let it cool before slathering on the meringue. The custard should be hot to prevent the beaten whites from breaking down and puddling onto the orange filling. Some cooks go so far as to sprinkle cake crumbs on top of the custard to absorb any leaks. Another possibility is to make the custard after the meringue so it’s piping hot when it comes in contact with the meringue. Next, when spreading the meringue, make sure the edges touch the crust all the way around. This will prevent the meringue from shrinking. Finally, the pie is always best the day it’s made—after a night in the fridge, the meringue gets rubbery and it’s impossible to cut without tearing.
Of course, you could always skip the meringue and cover the top with whipped cream, but then it wouldn’t be a meringue pie.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.