It contains only a few essential ingredients, but why do some people struggle so much to make the perfect meringue? I’ve tried making it a few times, and each time the result would’ve made any decent chef cringe. Why is my meringue always flat?
Not only can the mixture of a meringue be flat, but a baked meringue can also easily deflate. There are various tips and techniques one needs to be aware of when following the recipe for this mouthwatering dessert.
If you want to be crowned the best meringue baker in your circle of family and friends, let’s have a look at what to do and not to do when making this delicacy:
Why Is My Meringue Mixture Flat?
Although the basic ingredients for a meringue include only eggs, sugar, and a mild acid, it’s easier than it sounds to create the perfect lemon meringue pie or pavlova.
The first step towards a successful meringue lies in the preparation of the mixture. There are various reasons why your meringue mixture might become flat:
- The eggs aren’t separated properly.
- The eggs are too cold.
- The egg whites haven’t been whipped long enough.
- The overall mixture is overwhipped.
- The whisk and bowl are not clean or dry enough.
- You’ve squeezed the piping bag too tight.
- You’ve added the sugar too quickly.
- You haven’t added a mild acid.
- The weather is too humid.
The secret to a perfect meringue mixture lies in the eggs, whisking, tools, and weather, so what precautions should you take with your next attempt?
How Can I Ensure That My Meringue Mixture Doesn’t Go Flat?
It’s not as easy as grabbing a bowl, whisking up some egg whites, and adding sugar: you need to take great care with each delicate step of making a perfect meringue:
|Eggs||Make sure that you properly separate the egg yolk from the egg white, as the fat from a speck of egg yolk can cause the whites of the egg to deflate. A small shell can ruin the separation process, so always make sure that you crack the eggs on a hard surface and keep the yolk and the white in separate bowls. Eggs whisked at room temperature are airier than cold eggs. However, it is easier to separate cold eggs. The solution is easy: you can separate the eggs while cold and then leave them outside for half an hour before whisking them.|
|Whipping/Mixing||If your egg whites don’t reach the firm and stiff peaks stage, it is an indication that you’ve beaten them too long or on too low a speed. Ideally, before adding the sugar, you should beat the egg whites for about a minute or until it forms soft peaks. It’s also best to use an electric mixer with the setting on medium speed. It’s also quite possible that you can overmix your egg whites to a stage where they are past peak stiffness. Overmixing will lead to your mixture having a grainy consistency, which will lead to a disastrous meringue.|
|Tools||Your bowl and whisk need to be thoroughly cleaned and dried. Always use a copper, glass, or metal bowl as plastic tends to hold hidden traces of oil and fat. Copper bowls’ acidity also stabilized egg whites.|
|Piping||You can easily deflate the mixture if you hold the piping bag too tightly. Be sure not to touch the baking sheet with the tip of the bag, and always apply gentle pressure when piping.|
|Sugar||There’s a reason why all meringue recipes tell you to gradually add the sugar: if you add the sugar all at once, your mixture will lose all of the air that you’ve so carefully created. Ideally, you should add the sugar one tablespoon at a time until your mixture reaches the soft peak stage.|
|Mild acid||Acid gives more volume and air to your mixture. A mild acid like ½ teaspoon of lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar will lift your mixture to the next level.|
|Weather||Ideally, it would be best if you do not make meringue on a wet or humid day. The air’s moisture will cause the sugar to absorb that moisture, and the result will be a flat mixture. If you have no choice but to start baking on a humid day, adding 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to the sugar will make a difference.|
Meringue can be extremely temperamental, so you might very well find your meringue still flat even after you’ve followed all of the above guidelines. Although success is never guaranteed, you can attempt to revive it.
Can I Fix My Flat Meringue Mixture?
It is sometimes possible to revive a flat meringue mixture. The secret lies in the whisking of the egg whites.
According to Nigella, the egg whites are sometimes not whisked enough before the sugar is added. She states, ‘It sometimes helps to whisk the whites, then add a tablespoon of sugar and whisk the whites back to medium peaks before adding the rest of the sugar.’
An exiting member of the Food52 hotline even tried the following, and it worked: She took a new egg white, whisked it to stiff peak stage, and then slowly added the failed mixture, and voila!
Why Is My Baked Meringue Flat?
As mentioned earlier, it is not only the meringue mixture that can be flat – a baked meringue can also fall flat. Here are some reasons why your baked meringue might fall flat:
- You haven’t baked it long enough.
- The oven’s setting is too low. The moment you see liquid condensation beads on top of your meringue, it’s a telling sign that you should increase your oven’s temperature.
- The air is too humid. Try as far as possible to make meringue on a dry day as the humidity in the air might very well cause your baked meringue to flatten.
- If you take it out of the oven immediately after baking, your meringue might fall flat. Because the meringue absorbs extra moisture from the air on a humid day, you need to cool it off first inside the turned-off oven.
- You’ve opened the oven door during the baking process.
Whether you want to bake a tray of plain meringues for the kids or make a sophisticated pavlova, always make sure that you follow all the necessary tips and guidelines. Baking a successful meringue is very much like a baby: it needs to be treated gently.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.