When it comes to making meringue, simple ingredients and instructions can lull you into thinking preparation is quick and easy. Make it once under the wrong conditions, however, and you may quickly change your mind. Although the type of meringue plays a role in the difficulty of preparation, moisture is a factor that can affect the most simple to the most complex, causing a gooey, sticky meringue and disastrous results.
Reduce relative air humidity or put off making meringue on a humid day. The sugar in your meringue will attract moisture from the atmosphere, causing the meringue to become soft and sticky. The drier the air is, the better for making meringue, so turn on your air conditioner to bring humidity levels under control before starting.
Avoid multitasking activities that can increase moisture in the air when you are making meringue. Even tasks you work on in another room, such as doing laundry, can increase humidity levels to a point that will lead to sticky meringue. In the kitchen, empty any pans that contain water, avoid boiling water, even for a cup of tea, do not open your refrigerator and, especially, do not run your dishwasher.
Beat in the sugar required in the recipe until it dissolves completely. To test this, rub some of the meringue between your fingers and make sure it does not feel gritty.
Add a cornstarch solution to help stabilize your meringue and keep the egg proteins from breaking down too much during cooking. Bring to a boil and then cool 1 tbsp. of cornstarch and 1/3 cup of cold water for every four egg whites in your meringue. Add 1 tbsp. of the solution at a time to your meringue after beating in the sugar, beating the meringue to a stiff peak after each addition.
Set a kitchen timer to avoid over-baking the meringue. Over-baking not only creates a tough texture but also causes the egg whites to release moisture. Moisture beads then collect on the surface of your meringue, causing it to become sticky.
Dry a “hard” meringue, or meringue that uses 1 cup of sugar for every 4 egg whites in your oven until the surface of the meringue is bone dry.