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EPICURIOUS: THE MAGIC OF MERINGUES

February 17, 2019

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Lemon meringue eclairs with a torched Italian meringue on the top
Lemon meringue eclairs with a torched Italian meringue on the top

I have loved meringues for as long as I can remember. There is something quite incredible about the fact that two basic ingredients — whipped egg whites and sugar — can be transformed into the base or decoration for some beautiful and utterly delicious creations. Meringues may look and sound simple but they require a great deal of technique. However, the good news is that, with a little bit of practice, you will be making masterpieces in no time.

There are three basic types of meringues in the standard pastry book — Swiss, French and Italian. The Swiss meringue uses the two basic ingredients of egg whites and sugar (if you’re a beginner, this is also the easiest meringue to master); the French meringue is sometimes made with the addition of icing sugar to the basic mix, while the Italian meringue (the most complicated of the three) is made with water, egg whites and sugar. Meringues can be eaten on their own, used as the base of a sponge cake or a mousse, form one part of an elaborate dessert, used as decoration, or even as the base of buttercreams such as the Italian Meringue Buttercream and the Swiss Meringue Buttercream — that is just how versatile they are!

It is important to remember a few tips in order to make a great meringue:

Measure your egg whites: A standard egg yields 30g of egg white, so calculate the quantity you need beforehand, separate the desired number of eggs, and then weigh the egg whites into your mixing bowl.

Ensure your equipment is grease free: Grease is the enemy of a meringue and even a hint of it will stop the egg whites from gaining volume. I like to clean my bowl, whisk and spatula with lemon juice before I begin.

Use caster sugar: Coarse sugar won’t work in a meringue so make sure you use caster sugar (also called superfine).

Prepare in advance: You need to move fast when making meringues, so make sure your equipment is ready and your ingredients are measured out before you begin.

SWISS MERINGUE

The Swiss meringue works really well if you want to make the kind of meringue kisses that are often found in very Instagrammable pastry photos. Many people use a French meringue for this purpose but I find that the Swiss meringue is far more stable and isn’t nearly as affected by humidity. You can also pipe small meringue nests which can be used as a base of a pavola.

INGREDIENTS

250g egg whites
500g caster sugar

METHOD

Measure both ingredients into a stainless steel mixing bowl. Put a saucepan of water on to boil and when the water begins to simmer, put your mixing bowl on top of it and start whisking the egg white and sugar mix. You will need to whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 60 degrees C). Immediately transfer the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and start mixing on medium-high speed. As the mixture cools, it will gain volume, become whiter and look quite fluffy. You will know you are done when the meringue holds a stiff peak — the best way of checking this is to hold the whisk attachment up with a dollop of meringue on it and if the peak stands firm then you know you are done. You can divide the mixture into separate bowls and colour the meringue in different colours (gel colours are best for this as liquid colour will destabilise the meringue). Then put it in a piping bag with a large open star tip and pipe on to baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake the meringues in an oven pre-heated to 80 to 90 degrees C for 1.5 to two hours.

Swiss meringue kisses | Photos by Stephan Andrew
Swiss meringue kisses | Photos by Stephan Andrew

FRENCH MERINGUE

The French meringue is the least stable of all three meringues, which means that it loses its volume quickly; therefore I find it is best used in recipes where a meringue is required in a mousse or a sponge. This meringue is also often used as a base for macarons but, again, I find that an Italian meringue, which is far more stable, is better for this purpose.

INGREDIENTS

250g egg whites
150g caster sugar
350g icing sugar

METHOD

Measure your egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Measure caster sugar and icing sugar in separate bowls. Start the mixer at a low speed and beat the egg whites until they are slightly frothy. At this point you will slowly add the caster sugar in, about 10g at a time and let it mix for a few seconds before the next addition. Once all the sugar has been mixed and your meringue has reached stiff peaks, slowly fold in the icing sugar with a rubber spatula. If you’re not using your French meringue in a mousse or a sponge, it can also be baked at 80-90 degrees C for 1.5 to two hours.

ITALIAN MERINGUE

Although the Italian meringue is the hardest to make, the results are absolutely stunning. Since there is a syrup at the base, this is a cooked meringue and doesn’t require baking. I love piping it on top of my lemon-meringue tart or éclair and then using a blow torch to brown some of the edges for a beautiful appearance and a delicious marshmallowly taste and texture. You will need a sugar thermometer to make this meringue.

INGREDIENTS

200g caster sugar
50g water
120g egg whites

METHOD

Measure the caster sugar and water into a saucepan and the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixture. Boil the syrup until it reaches 117 degrees C on a sugar thermometer and immediately pour it over the egg whites while whisking constantly. Put the bowl on the stand fitted with a whisk attachment and start beating on medium speed until stiff peaks form. You can then pipe the meringue on to a tart, éclair or other pastry of your choice and use a blow torch for a beautiful effect.

The writer is an alumna of Le Cordon Bleu

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 17th, 2019