Airy and light homemade meringue is a perfect addition to pies and cakes, but also works wonderfully on its own, in the form of cookies or as a base for Pavlova cake.
Meringue is basically made of egg whites and sugar, but the final result is quite different than in plain whipped eggs. So, what’s the secret to a perfect, soft, and fluffy meringue?
Cream of Tartar for Perfect Meringues
Cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is a simple powdery ingredient with various super powers. In the case of meringues, only a tiny amount (as little as a 1/8 teaspoon) acts as a stabilizer. The acidity in this ingredient is what makes meringues sturdier. It boosts the mixture’s volume by enhancing the formation of air bubbles, thus preventing it from flattening.
Optionally, some recipes might call for other acidic substances to replace cream of tartar, such as lemon juice or white vinegar (1/2 teaspoon per egg white in the recipe). Less frequently used cream of tartar substitutes are yogurt, buttermilk, sour milk, kefir, and white wine. In other cases, baking soda is used instead of cream of tartar + baking soda.
Note: If you are using potassium bitartrate or any other acidifier, avoid preparing your meringue in a copper bowl. Copper reacts with acidic substances and results in color change of the egg mass.
Cream of tartar also increases the eggs’ tolerance to high temperatures, making sure your meringue maintains perfectly formed peaks even after baking in the oven.
For more info on how to use this amazing ingredient, read The Incredible Cream of Tartar – How to Use and What to Substitute With.
What Else Makes a Perfect Meringue Besides Cream of Tartar?
Besides cream of tartar, there are a few more essential steps that lead to a perfect meringue.
Egg to sugar proportions
In case you were wondering, the type of sugar doesn’t make much difference so feel free to use regular, granulated sugar. However, experienced cooks swear that fine, powdered sugar produces the best final results because its tiny crystals dissolve faster and easier.
Cream of tartar helps here as well. Contrary to the case with egg whites, where potassium bitartrate acts as a booster, when it comes to granulated sugar it serves as an inhibitor, i.e. adding a pinch of potassium bitartrate into your egg white mixture will prevent the formation of sugar crystals.
Make sure your eggs are at a room temperature in order to ensure higher volume of the mixture when whipped. However, it is easier to separate the whites from the yolks while the eggs are still cold, then let them sit for about 15 minutes on the counter to reach room temperature before you start whipping.
As for the egg white/sugar ratio, it depends on the recipe. If you are making a hard meringue, add ¼ cup of sugar for every egg white (in this case adding an acidic substance is a must). In the case of softer meringues, use two tablespoons of sugar per egg white.
Use a good Bowl
Use a large bowl since the egg whites will expand during beating. The bowl should be clean and completely dry. If it is wet, the egg whites will absorb the moisture which will prevent them from setting properly.
And finally, the bowl should be made of ceramic, glass, or stainless steel. As mentioned before, copper should be avoided, especially in case you are using potassium bitartrate or another acidifier. Plastic is also on the blacklist because it contains certain substances which might affect the final result.
Meringue Recipe with Cream of Tartar Step by Step
You only need three simple ingredients to make a perfectly fluffy meringue.
- 4 egg whites
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Method of preparation:
Step 1: Separate the egg white from the yolk immediately after you take them out of the fridge. Let them come to a room temperature;
Step 2: Whip the egg whites until completely smooth, but be careful not to overwhip because the mass will become grainy and dry;
Step 3: Add the cream of tartar followed by the sugar;
Step 4: Bake the meringue at 350 degrees F, about 4 inches under the heat. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the peaks are golden brown.
Place it on top of puddings, pies, puddings, cakes, cookies and enjoy!