10 things you need to know about meringues
I mean, I say 'need to know' but let's just take that statement with a pinch of salt shall we?
Meringues are one of my favourite things. They are so light and fluffy and you can add them to so many different desserts for that light yet crunchy addition. They have a reputation, much like macarons, to be a little tricky to make, but if you stick to the rules then you won't have any baking failures in your hands. So what do you need to know about meringues?
1. The exact date and origin of meringues is unknown
It is thought that the meringue was invented in Meiringen, Switzerland (hence the name) and then improved by Italian chef Gasparini in the 18th century. However, this theory is contested by many. We do know that the first use of the word meringue was used in a cookbook in the 1600s written by Francoi Massialot.
2. It is claimed by many that all equipment MUST be scrupulously clean otherwise meringues will be IMPOSSIBLE to make, but this isn't strictly true
It is true that it will take longer for you to reach the smooth stiff peaks required, but not impossible so don't get too worked up about it. Marcus Wareing suggests rubbing your mixing bowl with half a lemon before cracking your eggs. This will ensure all speckles of fat that may be left on your bowl will be elimated so that you can reach the stiff peaks of baking stardom quicker.
3. Even if you add the sugar at the beginning of the process, you can still get to stuff peaks and it won't affect the taste
Many recipes advise that you should get to a soft peak stage before adding caster sugar one tablespoon at a time and then head to stiffness. It might take you a bit longer to get to a stiff peak (and it depends on the amount of sugar in your recipe - if half the weight of the eggs or less then this theory works) but I find that the consistency of the mixture is smoother, and tastier when I add to the sugar to the egg whites before I even have my hands on the mixer.
4. You don't cook meringues, you just dry them out...
...to ensure that your meringue stays a lovely glossy white. In simple terms, you are evaporating the water from the mix to leave the egg and sugar mix with air bubbles in between. Put your meringue in the oven at 60c overnight, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
5. The usual sugar choice for meringues is caster sugar
Avoid granulated sugar at all costs! Using granulated sugar just means that you are going to end up with grainy meringues which isn't the most appetising. Caster sugar normally works best as the smaller grains dissolve easily in the mixture. In my recipe, I add half caster sugar and half icing sugar which makes the bellowing clouds that make the perfect meringue crunch and chew.
6. Meringues are the base of macarons
Obvious, no? Well you would think so with the crunchy outside and the chewy centre synonymous with macarons. Fold in some ground almonds and you're good to go!
7. Meringues can sweat
If you don't beat in the sugar sufficiently (and gradually if you are using more sugar than half of your egg white) it will cause small droplets of water to appear on the outside once cooked
8. Meringues don't contain any fat!
What a bonus! By including fat in meringues, it would cause them to cave in. But let's remember, the do contain A LOT of sugar...
9. Whipping your egg whites at room temperature works best
Always ensure you take your eggs out of the fridge to allow them to warm to room temperature before separating and whipping.
10. On humid says, add cream of tartar to your meringue mixture
Cream of tartar stabilises the meringue by lowering its pH and making it more acidic. Make sure that you add it early on in the whipping, but not before you have started. I always use Dr. Oetker.