French Meringue

Country of origin: Could be Swiss, could be German

I have not had many dealings with meringues in my culinary adventures so far. I’ve eaten an Eton mess here, a bit of Pavlova there and of course macarons; and to me it was all just eggs and sugar… As I’ve been discovering however, there is a whole world of meringue out there: French, Swiss, Italian, to name a few. What they all have in common is the whipping of air into the egg whites, where friendly little proteins allow the air bubbles to stay put, converting the humble egg white into a glorious fluffy cloud. As outlined in the excellent Professional Pastry Chef, the addition of sugar makes the whipped egg whites even more stable  but also  slows down the foaming process. Thus the warning you always get to add the sugar after the egg whites have already increased in volume, and also to add the sugar very gradually.

French meringue, the simplest and sadly least-stable kind, is made by adding sugar to whipped egg whites and is suited to making nests and cookies. The Swiss kind is made by beating egg whites and sugar over a bain-marie and Italian meringue requires hot sugar syrup to be poured in a thin stream onto egg whites as they are being whipped. The cooking of the egg whites creates a more stable meringue, and makes the Swiss and Italian meringue good for topping pies and making buttercream.

This French meringue recipe is as follows:

1 Whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form

2 Add caster/superfine sugar a spoon at a time

3 Stir in the icing/confectioner’s sugar

4 Pipe and bake, then dry in the oven further, to make sure all the water has evaporated away

They come out a beautiful pale gold colour and were delicious and crunchy. I served them sandwiched together with sweetened whipped cream and also filled with cream and topped with chopped berries in little nests. They kept well for about a month, ever-ready to be thrown into something.

My top tips for meringue learned so far, from here and The Professional Pastry Chef:

-Use a CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN bowl; any fat or grease just ruins the party and the egg whites won’t increase in volume

-To be sure that your bowl is spotless, rub half a lemon/lemon juice across it

-Bring your egg whites to room temperature before whisking

-With the French meringue in the recipe above, once you’ve whipped your egg whites, pipe into shape straight away, even if you are baking them later

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