One of my uncle’s favorite desserts is meringues. He’ll pop one in his mouth, widen his eyes in delight, and exclaim how it just dissolved.
Whenever I return to my hometown in South Carolina, I try to make him a batch. Emphasis on “try.” Because the one thing about South Carolina is that it’s constantly humid, and humidity is the enemy of meringues.
That’s because these simple desserts are made from whipped egg whites and sugar, and crucially, they are baked low and slow (usually between 200°F and 250°F) for a long period of time until completely dry. Completely. That’s what gives them their characteristically crispy texture. If the atmosphere is humid or rainy, the meringues pick up the moisture in the air because sugar is hygroscopic — in other words, it attracts water. As it draws in moisture, the meringues become sticky and soft instead of dry and crisp. If they’re not eaten immediately, before the humidity can get to them, it’s basically a disaster.
Because of this unfortunate bit of climate constraint, I used to only make meringues during the drier winter months. But not anymore: Now, I’m using my freezer to make meringues no matter the weather. No one is more thrilled than my uncle.
The trick is to store the baked, cooled meringues in the freezer, where the dry, cold air prevents them from attracting moisture and losing their crispness. This means you can make plain meringue cookies anytime, yes, but you’ll also have so many other desserts waiting at your fingertips.
Bake a large batch of pavlova shells (full-sized or mini) and stack them in your freezer — you’ll be able to take one out, make some whipped cream and macerate some fruit, and have a light, summery pavlova ready to enjoy in a matter of minutes (and, notably, without turning on the oven). Or you can crush up meringue cookies and layer them in a serving dish with whipped cream and fruit or jam for an elegantly rustic Eton mess.
A few tips for success: Wrap the meringues tightly or place them in an airtight container, as you don’t want these simply flavored confections to pick up off flavors from your freezer. Some of our favorite freezer-friendly picks are these stackable, rectangular containers with lids and this 19-cup airtight acrylic canister.
When packaging for the freezer, be mindful of how delicate meringues are. If you have a large batch, you could lay them flat in a single layer on a baking sheet or cardboard round, then wrap tightly (and set on top of everything else in your freezer so they don’t get crushed). Or stack gently in a freezer-safe container with layers of parchment in between.
Also, make sure to remove the meringues from their container when you take them out of the freezer and allow them to thaw. The inside of the container can pick on condensation as it warms, introducing moisture and affecting the texture of the meringue. If you pull them out of the freezer on a very humid day, you may even want to pop them in a low oven briefly so they can crisp up further.
And one more tip for keeping meringues stable during hot, humid weather: As covered in our previous post on meringue rules, you can mix a few teaspoons of cornstarch with the sugar to help soak up any extra liquid in your meringue and prevent it from weeping.
Now, any season can be meringue season, regardless of the weather. Someone go tell my uncle.
Need a refresher on making meringues? We've got you:
Cover photo by Kristin Teig; food styling by Liz Neily.