Making perfect meringue for lemon tartlets or a pie is like winning the Oscar. For years I struggled each time I tried to make meringue, always experiencing disappointment. I would make this gorgeous pie, prepare the meringue, pipe it on and admire the results. Immediately, after removing it from the oven it would start to deflate and within two hours weep— ruining my beautiful flaky crust. Fellow bakers would tell me, "It doesn't keep well and so you have to serve it right away". I couldn't accept that kind of thinking and decided to do my own research and experimentation. I knew most recipes specify cream of tartar to stabilize the whites (ugh, I hate that awful taste), and others suggest a dash of lemon juice or a pinch of salt (not much better). You can always heat the sugar and water to 236°F. and carefully add it to the beaten whites in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer using the whisk attachment. This method is successful but you have to be very careful handling the hot syrup. It is important to make sure the egg whites are cooked to 160°F (according to recommended food safety regulations). Using the following method will assure you completely cooked egg whites that are safe to eat, and retain their beautiful shape when beaten into a meringue.
Makes enough meringue for 8 Lemon-Meringue Tartlets or one 9" pie
5 egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 2 drops orange flower water
BAKERS NOTE: Prepare your favorite tart or pie recipe, or use the one from my book, Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.
1. Prepare and bake tartlet shells or pie shell. Fill with lemon curd and store in the refrigerator on a parchment covered half-sheet pan while preparing the meringue.
2. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
3. Choose a saucepan or pot that will snugly hold the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add about 1 inch of water to the pan. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat so the water is at a simmer. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of the mixer with a balloon whisk until the sugar dissolves.
4. Place the mixer bowl over the simmering water, and stir constantly with a silicone spatula, frequently scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is hot and opaque (an instant-read thermometer will read 160°F.). about 5 minutes. Keep checking the temperature, being careful not to to overcook the egg mixture.
5. Place the mixer bowl on the mixer, add the vanilla, and using the whisk attachment, whip the whites until cool and forms stiff shiny peaks. Place your hand on the bottom of the bowl to judge the temperature. It should be cool to the touch.
6. Transfer the meringue to a large pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch-diameter open-star tip, such as an Ateco #824. Pipe tall swirls of meringue over the curd, making sure that the meringue touches the edge of the pastry. Bake at 350°F until the meringue is tinged golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in a draft free area. The lemon tarts can be stored at room temperature for a few hours or up to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.