Marie Antoinette was well-known for her sweet tooth. One of the favorite treats, according to historians? Meringue. In fact, the ill-fated queen is credited with introducing Swiss-originated meringue to the French, who went on to co-opt it in many recipes of their own.
But while everything from lemon meringue pie to meringue cookies are beloved around the world, meringue can be a mystery to home chefs — particularly when it comes to achieving its signature form and texture. Here’s a closer look at meringue, along with tips for making it — and the one thing you need to guarantee meringue-making success.
All About Meringue
There are actually three types of meringue. The most well-known version is French meringue, which simply involves beating fine white sugar into egg whites. (Some French meringue recipes also call for adding an acid, such as vinegar, lemon, or cream of tartar, or binding agent, such as gelatin, salt, or cornstarch.)
While you may be asking yourself, “What’s so hard about beating sugar into egg whites?” the truth is that it making it can be a challenging process. Why? Because a successful meringue relies on the formation of stiff peaks which occur when the proteins in egg whites break down through a process known as “denaturing.” It is only through this chemical reaction that the mixture can achieve the stiffness necessary required to make the light, airy and crisp confections we all know and love. Says website What’s Cooking America of the craft, “making perfect egg white meringue is much like blowing air into a balloon while whipping.”
The good news? Once you’ve perfected your meringue-making, the sky is the limit when it comes to flavoring. Adding vanilla, almond, coconut and other flavorings can take the taste of your meringue to delicious new levels. Just be careful when working with extracts as the oil they contain can inhibit the formation of foam.
Five Tips for Making Meringue
So what do you need to know to successfully make meringue? These five tips can help:
1. The eggs you use matter.
What’s Cooking America suggests working with eggs that are at least a few days old. These whip up into a higher volume than fresher eggs. However, if stability is more important in your recipe than volume, fresher eggs may be a safer bet.
It is also essential to make sure that whites are completely free of yolk. Also, keep in mind that cold eggs separate more easily, but should be brought up to room temperature before beating.
2. Wait for a dry, sunny day.
Everyone’s familiar with the old adage about the importance of “saving for a rainy day,” but here’s one task you should skip when the weather outside is wet. While it may sound like a wives tale, there’s science behind it. Egg white meringues contain a significant amount of air. If you make them on a humid or rainy day, the texture may change due to the introduction of excess water.
3. Choose the right bowl and utensils.
While making meringues isn’t necessarily difficult, the process is complex. The addition of any extra moisture can cause your meringue to fail, so make sure you’re working with clean, dry, and grease-free utensils.
Also, copper, glass, and stainless steel bowls are preferable than plastic bowls when whipping egg whites.
4. Timing is everything.
You can’t rush meringue, and any attempts to do so will actually lengthen the amount of time it takes to make it. Begin by whipping just the egg whites, and add the sugar in gradually only when the whites have already stiffened.
5. Measure well.
In addition to adding sugar at the right time, determine in advance the precise amount of sugar you’ll need to achieve the desired consistency. More sugar achieves a harder, easier-to-pipe final product, while less sugar leads to a softer meringue more suitable for topping pies and cakes.
Beaten egg whites can expand in volume by up to eight times their original size. But if you’ve ever tried to whip eggs by hand, you’re probably already aware that it can be both a time-consuming and exhausting process. One simple tool which can significantly improve your meringue-making efforts? A stand mixer. In fact, according to Martha Stewart, not only are standing mixers able to mix more efficiently than a whisk, but they also yield a more stable end result.
Meringue is beautiful and tastes delicious, but there’s one more reason to try your hand at making meringue in this season of New Year’s resolution. They’re also fat-free! Register with Cilantro today for more valuable content aimed at helping home chefs bring their culinary visions to life.