Troubleshooting Pesky & Frustrating Meringues

A few days ago I made pavlova, but the beautiful dish photographed was actually… my fourth attempt!

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Pavlova

This was my first attempt…(it also resembled my second and third…).

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Troubleshooting Pesky & Frustrating Meringues

With three failures and one success, I decided to look closely at recipes, ingredients and various factors in making the perfect meringue… (which comes in handy for not only pavlova, but for floating islands… or even lemon meringue pie).

Rule #1: Carefully separate your eggs.

If I do say so, I am a master egg separator (especially now!).


Amelia Badelia

(I always think of Amelia Badelia when I separate eggs… in one story, she removes them from the case and puts each egg in different parts of the room “separating” them from each other.)

But, any speck of yolk in your egg whites will cause them to deflate (and separate them cold)!

I also switched the brand of eggs I was using after my second attempt. The eggs I was using on my first go didn’t crack well.

Rule #2: Whip egg whites to stiff peaks.

To start, in my first attempt, I beat my egg whites by hand, a feat I was very proud of! This took a while and my poor arms hurt! But, even though I got them to peaks, they obviously weren’t stiff enough.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Troubleshooting Pesky & Frustrating Meringues

My second to fourth attempts I used an electric hand mixer (I had to ask my pop to bring mine in from NJ actually). Clearly using a little more mechanical elbow grease I achieved the perfect consistency. It’s all about incorporating air into the egg whites to achieve that consistency. Beaters are much more efficient than standard whisks… it helps if you have good upper body/arm strength too.

Compare and Contrast: Attempt #1 (above) and Attempt #4 (below)

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Troubleshooting Pesky & Frustrating Meringues
Honestly, when making meringue, don’t try to be a hero — Use a mixer!

Rule #3: Low and slow!

Next, I should have focused more on oven temperature. At first I was using a recipe for baking the meringue for one hour at 300 degrees. My gut reaction was this was too high for baking the meringue, but I honestly haven’t made one in so long I didn’t know for sure.

Anyway, bake your meringue at a low temperature (180 degrees F for 1 1/2 hour), which ensures the gradual evaporation of moisture. Also, once it’s done, leave the meringue in the oven and turn the oven off. This will further dry them out and prevent them from collapsing. For my fourth and final attempt, I chose Ina Garten’s recipe, knowing she wouldn’t lead me astray!

Finally, do not open the oven door during baking, which can lead to cracking.

Side note – the first recipe I used called for cream of tartar, which adds volume and helps keep them stable. The Ina recipe I used omitted the cream of tartar and added two teaspoons of white vinegar, which is also used as a stabilizer. The more you know…

Despite researching pavlova after all my failed attempts, I by no means feel like I have a handle on these pesky meringues. I can confidently say that after attempting pavlova four times in a two week period I never want to make a meringue again! Never again!

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