Ask Peter: The curse of the sliding meringue
Is there any way of getting the meringue to adhere to the lemon curd layer when you make lemon meringue pie? I put the meringue on top when the curd was still warm, which is meant to help, but the meringue still did a bit of a slide when I cut the pie. Dennis
Oh, the curse of the sliding meringue. I’m not sure what recipes you’re using, but I’d suggest that the reason it slides is that a skin has formed on top of the curd, which prevents the meringue from sticking. A shiny skin behaves almost like a non-stick pan because there is nothing for the meringue to hold on to. If you were to pipe meringue on to ice cream atop a baked Alaska, or even the sponge cake itself, then it has something to grip to. But piped on a skin it’ll simply slip away. What I have found helpful is to score the curd with a fork, which roughens up the surface and helps it to stick, but that roughed up look may not be your idea of a good looking pie. Alternatively, dust the surface with a little cornflour while it’s setting which gives a slightly pasty grip to the meringue.
Sometimes, especially in an American diner, the meringue is piped on in rosettes rather than in a continuous spiral from the centre of the tart outwards. But often they suffer the same result — a separation. I’ve seen the same with Halloween styled pumpkin pie where the meringue (either the traditional meringue or the "cooked" style known as Italian meringue) slides away from the spiced cheesecake style filling.
When you make your curd have you thought about other flavourings? One of my favourites is made using fresh passionfruit pulp, strained of 90 per cent of the seeds. I find this goes really well as a tart filling, but also as a topping for scones or cupcakes. As a doughnut filling, it’s also fantastic — the sharp and sweet notes, combined with the buttery texture. Orange and lime curd works a treat as well, and I’ve eaten a good pineapple juice curd that had toasted coconut folded through it along with a pinch of chopped red chilli. Although from memory the curd separated a little, which would have been the fault of the protein bromelain which is so useful when marinating and tenderising meats, but not necessary what you want when setting custards, gels and the like.
Likewise, you can flavour your meringue. I’ve used pandan extract a lot in meringues as it adds a gorgeous green colour and a lovely vanilla-esque flavour. Add it right towards the end of the beating. Because it’s a liquid, just like water (but much greener!), you don’t want it in the mix from the start as a dry meringue will cook better than a wet one. You can also mix it into caster sugar then lay that out on a tray in the hot water cupboard to dry, before beating it in — this adds almost no extra liquid.
Meringues can also be made with brown sugar instead of caster sugar. Flavour this with a room temperature short espresso mixed in towards the end (there’s actually quite a bit of liquid even in a short black). Or dissolve a few teaspoons of instant coffee in a small amount of warm water and add this.
Dehydrated crushed fruits from someone like Fresh-As are also lovely, folded in to give a little more texture and lots of flavour. In fact, you can likely make a new meringue every day of the week to accompany a variety of things — from a vanilla meringue served with berries and cream, through to a warm chocolate pecan brownie dolloped with creme fraiche and crushed pecan meringues.
Find lemon meringue pie and other related recipes here: