Sweet and low in fat, meringue is a versatile pastry ingredient used both in traditional dessert recipes and in more innovative ones. Most everyone knows meringue as the light, billowy peaks atop a classic lemon meringue pie, but meringue can also be piped with a pastry bag into shapes, baked to form a firm pie shell, and dried to a sweet, crisp cloud to cradle other treats.
Meringue uses just two basic ingredients – superfine sugar and egg whites – to make the sweetest and most mouth-watering desserts.
Meringue is loosely defined as a mixture of beaten egg whites and granulated sugar whipped together.
When beaten, egg whites can expand to up to eight times their original volume. Sugar not only adds sweetness, it also stabilizes the egg whites by coating them with sugar so they can be beaten longer and don't dry out as fast. Sugar also decreases the volume and lightness of the meringue, so it is important that the sugar be added gradually, and usually never before the egg whites have been whipped to at least four times their original volume.
The amount of sugar and method used varies depending on the intended purpose of the meringue. Less sugar creates a softer meringue for toppings on cakes or pies; more sugar creates a harder meringue used for piping into shapes.
Using the Right Sugar Can Make the Difference
Meringues can be tricky, and using the right sugar can help ensure success. A superfine pure cane sugar, such as Domino® Superfine Sugar, works best because it dissolves faster and leaves no gritty texture. It will help prevent the egg white and sugar mixture from being lumpy. Depending on your mixing method, it can take up to 10 minutes for regular granulated sugar to blend in and dissolve to form glossy, stiff peaks Domino® Superfine Sugar will blend in faster – usually in only a few minutes.
Add Domino® Superfine Sugar when the egg whites reach the thick foam stage (just before they form soft peaks). As a rule of thumb, it's better to add sugar earlier rather than later and to underwhip rather than overwhip your whites. Overwhipped meringues will be dry and gritty looking; using Domino® Superfine Sugar blends quickly and will keep you from overbeating.
- The more sugar in a meringue, the drier and stiffer the meringue will be.
- It is believed that an Italian baker named Gasparini from the Swiss town of Meiringen created meringue.
- Use Domino® Superfine Sugar for meringues and other baked goods – it dissolves faster than regular granulated sugar.
- Use Domino® Superfine Sugar to help prevent "weeping" or sogginess. Meringues will weep if there's any undissolved sugar.
- Don't put granulated sugar in a food processor to achieve a finer grain. Pulverized sugar created in a food processor or grinder results in chopped-up sugar crystals that will not perform well.
Egg-White Whipping Stages
- Foamy: Large bubbles, very loose with a cloudy, yellowish liquid developing into bubbles.
- Soft Peaks: Bubbles have tightened into a white foam with a ribbon that folds back into itself. You can pull the whites into a "peak" but they won't hold one.
- Firm Peaks: Glossy, firm and smooth. You can pull whites into a peak that will curl but not stand.
- Stiff Peaks: Glossy and very stiff. Peaks are stiff enough to "cut."
- Copper or stainless steel bowl
- Electric mixer
- Rubber spatula
- Candy thermometer
- Double boiler
- Pastry bag for piping or a heavy plastic food-storage bag (Snip off a tiny corner. Make a larger hole in bag if you want a thicker drizzle)
- Chef's kitchen torch (or oven broiler)
Tips For Meringue Success
- When making meringues, always cook egg whites or use purchased pasteurized egg whites to avoid salmonella poisoning.
- Use fresh egg whites. Old egg whites tend to collapse when other ingredients are folded in, and they don't rise well in the oven.
- Use eggs at room temperature if possible. Cold egg whites tend to reduce meringue volume.
- Never let any yolk get into the whites.
- Don't overbeat egg whites. (Overbeaten egg whites will look hard, lumpy or dry). When whipping egg whites, always start your mixer on medium-low to medium speed. Beat them until foamy and increase the speed to medium-high and then to high. If the egg whites are beaten too quickly at the beginning, the structure of the foam will not be as strong, and later the egg whites will not beat as high as they should.
- A small amount of cream of tartar or vinegar can be added to the mixture at the beginning of whipping to help stabilize the foam and make it less likely to collapse.
- Don't use plastic bowls – they can retain a film of fat from previously mixed or stored items that can deflate the meringue.
- Don't make meringues on humid days. Humidity causes meringues to be sticky and chewy.
- Bake meringues at low temperatures because they tend to brown quickly.
- Leave hard meringues in the oven after baking so they will cool slowly and not crack.
- Meringue pie should be refrigerated in a cake dome.
- Baked meringues should be stored in airtight, moisture-free containers. They can usually keep for a week at room temperature and up to a month in the freezer.
A simple, uncooked meringue is made by beating egg whites, and adding in sugar until very stiff, shiny peaks form. Due to concerns about possible bacteria in raw eggs, powdered egg whites or pasteurized eggs found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store are recommended.
Italian and Swiss meringues are cooked. French meringue is baked.
Italian meringue is made by slowly beating hot sugar syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites and is used in frostings and atop pies and cakes.
Swiss meringue is made by dissolving sugar and egg whites together over simmering water and then beating in an electric mixer. It is often used as a base for buttercream frostings.
French meringue is made by gradually adding ultrafine sugar to whipped uncooked egg whites until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. The meringue is then piped into shapes and baked. It has a light, crisp texture and is often used as a "nest" to hold fruit or sorbets.
Sweet Fact: You need at least 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar per egg white to get a stable meringue.
Sweet Fact: French (hard) meringue = 4 tablespoons of sugar per egg white.
Sweet Fact: Italian (soft) meringue = 2 tablespoons of sugar per egg white.
- Add a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in heated water to whipped egg whites for a hard meringue that cuts smoothly.
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