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From Barbara’s Kitchen Cornstarch mixed with water helps keep meringue from shrinking

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Barbara Spitzer

Posted: Friday, December 3, 2010 8:59 am

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!

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 and is used a lot in candy and dessert bar making. Evaporated milk is only about 10 to 12 percent natural sugars. Evaporated milk is used in desserts like pumpkin pie or put in coffee instead of cream. 

Dear Barbara: After Thanksgiving I made turkey soup with the carcass after I removed any turkey that was still on the bones. I boiled the carcass for two hours to make the stock. It was boiled again when I made the soup using the stock. I always allow my homemade soup to cool on top of the stove, covered, overnight. Of course when I reheat it, I bring it to a boil again. Its never been a problem, but a friend suggests I should refrigerate immediately after it is made. No one has ever gotten sick from it. So is it okay to do that or am I just lucky?

— Jenell from Lodi

Dear Jenell: Your friend is absolutely right. It is hard to believe that no one has gotten sick. You can cool it down somewhat before putting it in the refrigerator, but I suggest that you not leave it out any longer than two hours maximum. You can set it in cold water that has ice in it. I use a clean Tupperware container and fill it with ice and drop it down in the middle of the soup pot to cool it from the inside out as well as from the outside. When you leave it on the stove that long, it is at a perfect temperature for bacteria growth, and grow it will. 

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 bdspitzer@comcast.net. Please include your first name and city.

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