All about meringue
- Make sure your kitchen equipment isn’t greasy!
- Don’t beat too hard or too quickly
- There are (at least) three different kinds of meringue
Start out with a perfect meringue as a base and you can take lots of what are basically quite simple deserts to a whole new level. But there's more to meringue than just whipping egg whites and sugar together,
Fat is meringue's worst enemy. Get a tiny bit of egg yolk in with the whites and you won't get fluffy whipped peaks, you'll get batter. Always whip meringue in clean bowls without the slightest trace of grease.
Don’t beat too hard
A common mistake is to beat the egg whites too hard, resulting in big bubbles, a less viscous meringue mix, and a less successful finished meringue. Martin Isaksson is one of the top pastry chefs in Sweden and this is how he does it:
- Start by beating at top speed for approximately 10 seconds to start the process off.
- Lower the speed to about half and take time over the rest of the beating stage (how much time largely depends on the type of meringue, see below).
- Pay attention and stop at the right time, when you can easily form stiff peaks of meringue with the whisk.
More forgiving with (corn) starch
Many meringue recipes add a teaspoon or two of starch. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach:
- It makes the meringue slightly more forgiving. The starch helps it to hold better in a damp environment.
- It also makes the consistency slightly less chewy. Some say it makes the inside of the meringue more like marshmallow and less like toffee.
Cracking eggs for meringue
Imagine you're using 12 to 14 egg yolks for a desert and intend to use the whites for meringue. If you're not highly practiced at cracking eggs, crack a couple at a time, inspect the whites and then pour them into a bigger bowl.
Acid makes meringue fluffy
In the past, egg whites were often left at room temperature for a day, exposed to the natural oxygen in the air. This oxidized them slightly, making them easier to beat. These days, we have access to extremely fresh eggs and we’re nearly always short of time. In this situation, a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar in the egg white are the secret behind truly fluffy meringues.
Easier with older eggs
Egg whites from eggs that have been sitting around for a week or two can be easier to beat than ultra-fresh egg white. It can be a good idea to beat first and see what happens before adding acid. Often, it’s only the very freshest eggs that need the extra help – and the resulting minor change in flavor – to become fluffy meringue.
Don't over-complicate things.
– Martin Isaksson, Chokladfabriken
There are (at least) three different kinds of meringue
The names can vary, but there are three types of meringue that it's worth having under your belt:
French meringue – beaten cold
For meringue that’s beaten cold, sometimes called French meringue, the basic technique is the simplest of all – beat the egg whites in a bowl and then add sugar a little at a time. Method:
- Use scales to weigh out twice as much sugar as egg white, roughly 100g sugar to 2 medium egg whites.
- Start beating the egg whites, adding the sugar a little at a time.
- The meringue is ready when it’s white and shiny, and you can form stiff peaks with the whisk.
- French meringue is cooked until it is dry and chalk-white all the way through. It keeps longer than…
Swiss meringue – beaten over heat
Egg white and sugar are carefully heated in a bain-marie to 55–60°C/131-140°F and beaten into a firm fluffy mixture without sugar crystals. With this technique, the aim is to cook the meringue so that it has a crisp exterior and a chewy center. It should be eaten as quickly as possible.
Swiss meringue recipe
This kind of meringue is called Swiss meringue and has a higher sugar content which makes it slightly chewier. Method:
- Pour egg whites and sugar into a bowl, about 250g sugar to about 3 egg whites.
- Heat in a bain-marie while beating. The temperature of the water – and eventually of the beaten meringue – should be between 55°C and 60°C/131 to 140°F.
- Beat the meringue constantly until it’s completely smooth and no sugar crystals remain. You can usually hear from the whisk when the sugar crystals have gone, you can also “pinch” a bit of the meringue and feel it with your fingertips.
- Once the meringue has reached the right temperature and there are no sugar crystals left, you can continue beating without the bain-marie. It is ready when the meringue is shiny and forms stiff peaks.
Perfect for pavlova
Pavlova is, to put it mildly, a classic dessert with a noble past. This summery pudding is ideal made with Swiss meringue – crunchy and chewy at the same time – perfect. Read.
Made by dribbling a heated sugar solution down into the stiff, beaten egg white. Unlike ordinary meringue, what we call Italian meringue is soft and only lightly grilled or browned on the top.
Italian meringue recipe
150g egg white
300g granulated sugar
50g water (about 50ml)
(A few drops of lemon juice, if needed)
- Warm the water and sugar to form a sugar solution. It should reach a temperature of about 120°C/248°C.
- Beat the egg white at a high speed while drizzling the warm (but cooling) sugar solution into the mixture.
- Lower the speed of the whisk and beat until white and firm.
- Add a few drops of lemon juice if needed to get the meringue to thicken.
- Pipe onto your deserts and preferably brown the surface with a chef's blow torch or put it in the oven under a grill at 250°C/482°F.
Italian meringue has a stiff, firm consistency which is good for piping and for adding a touch of luxury to a dessert. Italian meringue mixture can be frozen to be used later.
Which meringue is best?
The kind of meringue you make depends on what you’re going to use it for (and the type you like best).
- French meringue should be “dry” all the way through and can therefore be left longer before serving. It can be a good idea for a dessert that has to be prepared a long time in advance.
- Swiss meringue can be cooked so it’s chewy in the middle and crisp on the outside, which makes for better flavor. But it needs to be served quite quickly after cooking.
- Italian meringue is a literally superficial fix, perfect, e.g. for glace au four.
I like it when it’s a bit chewy in the middle.
– Martin Isaksson, Chokladfabriken