Dear Barbara: I enjoy reading your column. My problem is: I can make beautiful meringue for my lemon pie adding a little cream of tartar. To keep from having a “floating island,” I make sure a little of the meringue touches the edge of the pie crust, thereby “attaching” it so there are no naked gaps.
I let the meringue bake until lightly browned, then remove it from the oven and place it on a wire rack, but not in a drafty area. After it cools, the meringue shrinks down and looks flat and deflated, with little drops of syrup on top. What can I do to retain the nice puffy cloud that I started out with? I have tried letting the lemon filling cool a little before adding meringue, and I have tried doing it while the filling is hot. Nothing seems to work. — Joyce
Dear Joyce: You are definitely not alone. You have done all the right things but you need to be sure that the filling is piping hot when you put the meringue on the top. The reason it weeps is that the meringue is not getting cooked enough on the bottom, and the moisture in the meringue forms syrup-like drops on it.
Keeping it fluffy is another problem. Try adding a teaspoon of cornstarch to the sugar before beating it into the egg whites.
In the cookbook “Cookwise,” the author, Shirley Corriher, suggests that you blend a tablespoon of cornstarch with 1⁄3 cup of water; heat it until it thickens and then add it to the meringue a tablespoon at a time after you have beaten all of the sugar in. She says it keeps the meringue from shrinking, lowers the chance that beads will form on the surface and makes a meringue that is tender and easy to cut smoothly.
I thought the thickened cornstarch and water was very interesting and am eager to try it!
Dear Barbara: Are condensed milk and evaporated milk interchangeable? — Jaclyn
Dear Jaclyn: Stop! Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200 dollars!
There is a very big difference between (sweetened) condensed milk and evaporated milk. They both have over half of their water removed, but that’s where the similarity ends. Condensed milk is sweetened — really sweetened! To the point of being 65 percent sugar by the time it reaches the shelves of the supermarket. It is used a lot in candy and dessert bars. Evaporated milk is only about 10-12 percent natural sugars. Evaporated milk is used in desserts like pumpkin pie or put in coffee instead of cream.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.