Introduction to meringues

French meringue
French meringue

One of the inevitable results of practicing custards and crèmes is a load of leftover egg whites.

There are plenty of ways to use them – tortes, friands, macaroons – but I’m not quite at that stage in my learning so I’m going basic…meringues!

In simplest terms, a meringue is created by beating air into egg whites and stabilising with sugar.

There is a great deal of science behind it all, but in lay terms the whisking of the whites “denatures” the proteins in the egg white which means they unravel and secure pockets of air and water. This creates a foam.

Fat is the great enemy of meringue, so always make sure your egg whites are void of any yolk and also that your equipment is clean.

There are three main types of meringues and each creates a different structure.

Chocolate meringue
Chocolate meringue

French
Also known as common meringue, French meringue is made by adding sugar to egg whites while they whisk.

This yields a softer meringue ideal for topping pies and inclusion in mousses or soufflés.
It’s also a basis for the classic pavlova which is a regular dessert in my household.

One trick when making French meringue is to ensure the sugar has fully incorporated by rubbing the mixture between your fingers. You shouldn’t feel any grittiness from the sugar and should continue whisking until you get a smooth mixture.

Italian
This meringue is created by combining egg whites and hot sugar syrup.

Italian meringue is very versatile and the basis of many classic desserts including mousses, charlottes and bavarois.

It’s made by whisking egg whites before adding sugar syrup (made from sugar and water, or sugar and liquid glucose) which creates a sturdier meringue that won’t collapse as easily.

The sugar needs to be cooked to 120 degrees also known as firm ball stage. The egg whites should be half volume when syrup is added.

Swiss
I’m not as familiar with Swiss meringue so needed to do some additional research!
Swiss meringues are midway between French and Italian in terms of denseness and consistency.

The mixture is cooked over the stove (at 120-160 degrees) before final whipping.

The early addition of the sugar prevents the egg whites from increasing as much in volume as they do in the other meringues, but adds to its fine texture.

Swiss meringue is particularly good for baking crisp meringue cake layers and for topping pies.

While making my crèmes I’m going to intersperse with meringue-based recipes and posts to make sure I’m not wasting any opportunities.

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