Why Baking Show Contestants' Meringue Often Fails, According To Carla Hall

If you find yourself in the position of cooking or baking on a competition television show, to say that you are under some pressure would be a massive understatement. You have to demonstrate your expertise and flawless technique, adjust your knowledge for things like oven variables, let your own unique creativity shine through, and do it in a foreign kitchen under a tight time constraint — often while telling a camera crew every detail of what you're doing and why (not to mention maybe your life story, too). Even lifelong pros are bound to make a few mistakes. 

Insider has been chatting with stars of the food world who appear on the judging panels of such shows. They spoke about missteps, from overly ambitious dishes in too little time to sticking baked goods fresh from the oven right into the fridge to cool, which can turn textures gummy, as Duff Goldman pointed out.

One baked good that contestants seem to almost always get wrong? Meringue, says Carla Hall, host and judge on "Halloween Baking Championship." And that's unfortunate, since meringue can be everything, from its own dish, to a topping on a myriad of different cakes, puddings, and pies. That means there's potential for so many different items on a baking show to turn disastrous because of some mishandled meringue. So why does this fall so often?

Meringues are all about a delicate ratio

According to Bake Club, meringue is a "simple" combination of whisked egg whites and sugar, but the ratio there has to be spot-on. There are three types of meringue: French, Swiss, and Italian. These vary with things like adding heat or using sugar syrup; French meringue is the simplest of the sort, as chefs need only whisk egg whites until they peak form and then fold in sugar. 

"I think that when they incorporate a meringue, whatever the dish is, the ratio of sugar to water is often off," Hall told Insider of typical baking show contestants. ("Water" here refers to the liquid component, being egg whites.) "I don't think they look at the meringue as its own ingredient, knowing that it shouldn't be straight sugar and that there should be some flavor to it that compliments." 

What that translates to is that contestants may not give meringue the time it needs and deserves because they think it's just a topping or garnish. Meanwhile, every aspect of every dish they make has to be perfect for a win. They may not take the time to ensure the meringue's ratio, and therefore texture, is correct. Too little sugar means the meringue won't be smooth enough, for example, while adding the sugar too late will cause it to be too airy, says SBS. Plus, as Hall notes, meringue should have flavor, too, and not just always be straight sugar. Meringue is like a great blank canvas for sweets, so contestants are missing huge potential for inventive flavors if they phone it in here.