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Please Diagnose My Meringue Problem!

I desperately need a light dessert for Thanksgiving, and this old favorite would be ideal if only I could avoid embarrassing myself with the shriveled meringue that has resulted the last couple of times I attempted this.

Canonigo is a desert of Spanish origin popular in the Philippines. The meringue should be fluffy, a bit more tender than the meringue in lemon meringue pie. The recipe follows, and I'd really appreciate any suggestions or corrections that will help me make an airy but stable meringue that doesn't fall as it cools (especially since I'd like to make it the day before Thanksgiving). The rum flavored custard is absolutely delicious (and very nice with fresh fruit).

CANONIGO

1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water, caramelized and used to line the bottoms of 2 loaf pans.
Cool the caramel and coat the caramel-lined pans with butter.

8 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and baking powder and whip to stiff peaks. Pour into the prepared pans and bake in a bain marie in a 350F oven for 30 minutes.
Cool the meringues and unmold.

While the meringue is cooking, prepare the custard:

8 yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/4 cup dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cook the first three ingredients in a double boiler until as thick as hollandaise sauce. Remove from heat, add rum and vanilla.

What is causing my meringues to shrink? Could it be the butter? Whipping the whites too much? The humidity of the bain marie? Cooking too long or not long enough? Help!

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  1. I vote for the humidity. I had always heard, and followed, that you should keep meringue dry.

    1. I'm no pro, but I do make meringues quite often. MLTracy is right about the humidity, but I've never made a meringue in a bain marie. Try getting rid of the baking powder and use some cream of tartar as a stablizer. For some reason, I would not allow my meringues to get near butter, but it looks like your recipe calls for it. If you don't want the meringues really stiff, then don't whip them as long. Try the substitute of cream of tartar though, it may work.
      Good luck

      1. How much shrinkage are you getting? I think it's normal for this type of meringue to deflate a bit. I make meringue for floating islands (the classic French dessert w/ creme anglaise) in loaf pans, and the meringue will puff over the rim but then deflate by about 1/3 upon cooling.

        I agree that cream of tartar or even a squirt of lemon juice is a better stabilizer than baking powder. Also make sure that you are beating until very fluffy and glossy white. Depending on how much meringue goes in each loaf pan, you might want to bake for more than 30 min. I like to bake till the top is a peachy nude shade and the meringue looks nicely stiffened and dry. I think I bake on lower temp. but I'll double check the recipe later and let you know. I definitely do NOT use a water bath.

        Thanks for your recipe. It sounds great! I'm not a big floating islands fan myself, so I like the idea of jazzing it up w/ caramel and a rum sauce! Good luck and please report back.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Carb Lover

          MLT, jarona, Carb Lover, thank you very much for your comments! I'm looking forward to trying the changes you suggest. (Before posting, I did a web search for canonigo recipes, and almost all of them were from Filipino sites, and exactly the same as mine. Sounds like the recipe had one long-ago source! There was one Spanish blog with a similar recipe, and the meringue was baked without a bain marie.)

          The meringue puffs up beautifully, then shrinks into something even smaller than I started with. I'll try the cream of tartar and/or lemon and drop the bain marie. But how do you keep the meringue from sticking to the pan? This would be beautiful in a bundt pan, if one could keep it from sticking or shriveling. Would baking spray work?

          I love floating islands, and the recipe I use--from Saveur's French cookbook--calls for poaching the whites in milk, so I thought that the humidity of a bain marie wouldn't be a problem for a soft meringue. I was thinking of making iles flottante instead of canonigo, but I do much prefer the visual appeal of the runny carmel and emphatic rum sauce of canonigo!

          1. re: pilinut

            Keep the meringue from stocking to the pay with Parchment Paper. I swear to you--parchment paper is one necessity I ALWAYS need for my baking. It is a godsend!
            good luck!

        2. Here is the technique from Keller which is similar - I have used this recipe with success, but can't see it online. It is from the French Laundry cookbook.

          http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/...

          1. use cream of tartar instead of baking powder . After meringue is done, turn off oven but leave the meringue in the oven for a few more minutes ( 5 mins minimum ) with a slightly open oven door. check out " My Grandma Lali's floating Island " at Pati's mexican Table ' site.

            1. I agree that cream of tartar is better than baking powder. I also add white vinegar and cornflour to my meringue which makes it lovely and glossy on the outside and all soft and marshmallowy on the inside. Do you allow your meringues to cool inside the oven? It might be that they're cooling too quickly, which would make them shrink. I would have also thought 350F would be too high a temperature for meringue, I would be more inclined to try 300F for about an hour and then turn the oven off and allow the meringues to cool completely inside the oven.

              2 Replies
              1. re: TheHuntress

                Annnnd I just realised the OP is 3 years old...nevermind.

                1. re: TheHuntress

                  Thank you, both Foodiefrdahoodie and TheHuntress. A good meringue technique is forever, and the Canonoigo, a family favorite for decades, would have graced many more occasions had I been confident of making something consistently presentable. Rest assured your suggestions are appreciated--and will be attempted next time around! (And since it will be a first try, I will get to eat most of it, even if it comes out perfect!)