If you’ve pressed your nose against the dessert case of any self-respecting bakery, you’ve seen meringue. Meringue takes on many roles, sometimes forming a sweet crunchy cookie, sometimes topping a creamy pie, sometimes decorating the exterior of an ice cream cake. Meringue may look like it’s made of marshmallow fluff, but it’s actually a sweet foam made mainly from egg whites.
In its most basic form, meringue is composed of two ingredients: egg whites and sugar. Incredible right? Those ingredients are beaten together and like magic, they transform into a silky smooth shape-holding state that’s pliable enough to pipe or mold.
For foolproof meringue, follow these tips:
Tip 1: Use old eggs
Fresher isn’t always better. Older eggs actually produce fluffier and higher meringues. A simple trick to test how old your eggs are is by gently placing an uncracked egg in a glass of water. If it stands up on its end, it’s gonna be great for meringue. (If it floats, it’s actually too old—toss it. If it lies on its side on the bottom, it’s very fresh.)
Psst: Or, you could check the secret code on your egg carton. Here’s how to crack it.
Tip 2: Bring eggs to room temperature
Separate the whites from the yolks while the eggs are still cold from the refrigerator. Then let the whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before beating. This’ll help you whip your eggs to lofty heights.
Tip 3: Use a clean bowl
For the greatest volume, place whites in a small, clean metal or glass mixing bowl. Even a drop of fat from the egg yolk or oil—or the grease film sometimes found on plastic bowls—will prevent egg whites from foaming. So be sure to use clean beaters, too.
Tip 4: Don’t forget the secret ingredient
For the strongest and most stable meringue, add 1/8 tsp. of cream of tartar for every egg white before beating. It’s an acid that stabilizes the egg white—here’s more about this magical ingredient. If you don’t have any on hand, use ½ tsp. lemon juice for every egg white. (If you happen to have a copper-lined bowl, it’ll produce the same effect.)
Tip 5: Take your time
As you beat, don’t rush adding the sugar. The slower you add your sugar, the better it’ll dissolve into the whipped whites. We recommend pouring in 1 tablespoon as a time. This’ll help you achieve a silky smooth texture instead of a gritty one.
Tip 6: Take weather into account
It’s best to make meringues on a dry day. On humid or rainy days, they can absorb moisture and become limp or sticky.
How to Make Stiff Meringue
Stiff meringue is great for making cookies or pavlova. Click here to learn how to make soft meringue for pies.
- 2 large egg whites
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or ½ teaspoon lemon juice
A note on equipment: If you’re whipping up meringue on the reg, it’s time to invest in a quality stand mixer. Out of all of the brands on the market, our Test Kitchen recommends this model from KitchenAid ($200) for its powerful motor that stirs even the stiffest of cookie doughs and kneads homemade breads like it’s whipping air. Learn why we’re proud to call it our Best Loved Brand.
Step 1: Beat egg whites
In a large bowl, combine egg whites with cream of tartar and beat until foamy. You can do this with a stand or hand mixer on medium or with a handheld whisk. (If you go the latter route, you’ll get an arm workout, for sure.) Try not to overbeat the eggs at this point or they’ll have a harder time combining with your sugar. Once the whites are foamy, kind of like soap bubbles, stop.
Step 2: Slowly add the sugar
Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat well after each addition to combine.
Test Kitchen tip: Once the sugar has been added, you can stop worrying about overbeating. You can continue whipping the meringue for a long time, even if that means stepping away from your stand mixer for a few minutes.
Step 3: Beat until stiff peaks form
Continue beating until stiff glossy peaks form. How can you tell it’s right? Test by lifting the beater from the bowl. The peaks of the egg whites that rise as you lift should stand straight up, and the ones on the beaters should stick out too. Also, if you tilt the bowl, the whites should not slide. You shouldn’t see any clear watery egg at the bottom. Double check to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Pinch some meringue between your fingers. It should feel silky smooth to the touch.
Test Kitchen tip: Once you stop whipping the egg whites, it’s best to move quickly. The longer they sit before they get to the oven, the more they will sink and sag.
How to Make Soft Meringue
Opt for soft meringue when you’re topping a pie with its pillowy crown. Try stiff (more sugary!) meringue if you’re making cookies or pavlova.
- 1/2 cup sugar, divided
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 4 large egg whites
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Step 1: Combine Sugar and Cornstarch
In a saucepan, combine 2 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch. Gradually stir in the cold water. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture turns clear. Then transfer it to a bow, and pop it in the fridge to cool.
Step 2: Beat It
In a large bowl, beat egg whites and vanilla until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Lastly, beat in the reserved cornstarch mixture on high until stiff glossy peaks form and sugar is dissolved.
Pro tip: Don’t have vanilla extract on hand? Opt for another complementary flavor for your dessert to make it your own.
What to Make with Meringue
- Pavlova: The meringue creates the base for this fancy dessert. Top with fresh strawberries, blueberries and kiwi.
- Cookies: Pipe the meringue into 1-inch drops and bake for sugary-sweet bites.
- Pie: Top your lemon or any other citrus-y pie filling with clouds of newly whipped meringue and bake for a golden topping.
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