05 December 2012

How to Make Meringue (and put it on a Pineapple Pie)

Meringue can be intimidating.  I think I must have a little meringue in my DNA.  I've been making it since I could walk (literally).  My grandmother almost always had a chocolate meringue pie on her kitchen counter.  My mom's boss asks for those same pies every year as his Christmas present.  My mom makes hers filling a littler richer that my grandmother did, but the meringue remains the same.

There's a really simple formula for making a practically perfect meringue -- use one tablesppon for sugar for each egg white.  I typically use 4 egg whites and 4 tablespoons of sugar.  I think it makes the perfect amount for an 8 or 9" pie.  In little cafes all over the South you see them bragging on how tall their meringue is -- I don't find that to be a selling point.  In my opinion, it's quality over quantity.

There are a couple more tips for making great meringue.  Number one is to let your egg whites come to room temperature.  You get more volume out of a room temperature egg white than you do from one straight out of the refrigerator.  Number two is to not overbeat the egg whites.  It is a tendency to overbeat, when really you can underbeat meringue and it will all work out okay.  You want the whites to reach stiff peaks, which means that the meringue pulls out to a point that does not fall over when you pull the beaters out.  If the tip of the point droops a little and you are afraid of over beating, then go ahead and stop.  Dry meringue tends to shrink down to practically nothing and it loses that light-as-a-cloud dreaminess you're after.

A proper meringue will also develop some little sugar beads a little while after you bake it.  It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong.  In my house, it just meant that your meringue was gonna be extra good.

I picked pineapple filling for my meringue pie.  I wanted something a little different and I like that little hint of tart to contrast the sugary-meringue.  This filling doesn't have much tart left -- it tastes like you scraped off the top of a pineapple upside down cake and spooned it into a pie.  I think it's a glorious thing, that combination of pineapple and brown sugar.  You can also make this without the meringue.  It would be just as heavenly.

Pineapple Meringue Pie
makes one 9" pie

Print me, Please!!!

For the pie:
1 unbaked pie crust
One 20 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

For the meringue:
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
4 T sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Put the pie crust into a 9" pie plate; set aside.

Mix together the pineapple, brown sugar, eggs, and butter until combined.  Pour the filling into the crust.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the filling is set and no longer jiggly.

Meanwhile, make the meringue.  Put the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low speed whisk until the egg whites are foamy, then gradually increase the speed to medium-high.  Once the egg whites are opaque white and will hold soft peaks (the points will fold over when you pull out the whisk), add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, waiting a few seconds between additions.  Continue beating on medium high until the meringue is shiny and holds stiff peaks.

Spread the meringue on top of the hot pie, ensuring that the meringue covers the top all the way to the crust.  If your meringue does not touch and seal to the crust, it will shrink away from the edges.
Put the pie back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the meringue is golden and toasted to your liking.

Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature before serving.

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