Q: I have an old recipe for a cream pie. Milk, sugar and salt are cooked in a double boiler, then gelatin dissolved in water is added along with egg yolks. After this has cooled, beaten egg whites and cream are added and the mixture is put into a pie crust and chilled. Every time I make it, it separates. Any suggestions on what I may be doing to cause that?
I wasn't familiar with this type of pie, so I turned to cookbook author and baking science expert Jean Anderson. Anderson's suggestion is that the baker may be overbeating the egg whites. Overbeating will cause egg whites to break down and "weep," or exude moisture.
Beating the egg whites without sugar also may be part of the problem, she says.
"It would help if she added about 2 tablespoons of confectioners' sugar, and beat only until the egg whites are soft and billowing, not to stiff peaks. The cornstarch in the confectioners sugar will help stabilize the meringue."
Anderson also brought up another issue that recurs often with older recipes: Using raw eggs in an unbaked pie.
"In this age of salmonella, I wouldn't recommend putting raw egg whites in a cream pie," she says. "The fastest solution for her would be to use Just Whites or meringue powder (or pasteurized eggs). That would stop the weeping and also eliminate the risk of salmonella food poisoning."
Kathleen Purvis answers cooking questions at www.charlotteobserver.com/food.