"We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated or independent entity. "
- Margaret Wheatley
Homemade meringue is an ethereal delight but at the same time they hold a reputation for being tricky to make, but once you’ve read our guide you’ll be confidently whisking up big, billowing meringues … you can even make vegan meringues. In its simplest form, meringue is made up of egg whites and sugar. The ratio of egg white to sugar and how you handle those two ingredients make all the difference in the outcome.
Here’s what you need to know before you get started:
Using the right Bowl
Always make your meringue in a clean, dry bowl made of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel. Do not use plastic bowls as they can hold traces of oil, which might affect how your meringue turns out. Egg whites expand in volume when air is whipped into them, so be sure the bowl you use is larger than what you’d think you’d need.
Cold Eggs Warm Start
It’s always best to use egg whites at room temperature as they whip to a higher volume, but it’s easier to separate the yolks from the whites when the eggs are chilled. So, the best solution is to separate the yolks and whites while the eggs are cold, then set the whites aside for 10 to 15 minutes to bring them to room temperature. I usually separate my egg whites a night prior and store them in an airtight container, or a container covered with cling film, this is known as Aging.
You can use regular granulated sugar when you’re making a meringue, but many bakers swear by superfine sugar or castor sugar, this is because it’s ultra-fine crystals dissolve completely and with more ease when you whip them up with the egg whites. The amount of sugar you need to add depends on your recipe
1. Soft meringues used to top pies or make a baked Alaska, or to fold into batter have about 2 tablespoon sugar for every egg white.
2. If you wish to have Hard meringues that you can pipe into shapes have about ¼ cup per egg white, and usually contain acids such as cream of tartar or lemon juice.
If you wish to make a sturdier meringue, your recipe may call for an acidic ingredient such as cream of tartar, white vinegar, or lemon juice. A word of caution: please do not use a copper bowl if you’re adding acid to stabilize your meringue; it will react with the copper and discolour the egg foam.
The Guru Mantra is to choose a day when the atmospheric conditions are not humid, or the air doesn’t carry excess moisture. The meringues tend to absorb the moisture in the air and never whip or set up properly.
While making meringues a lot of people wonder why their meringues get runny. It’s all in the whisking. The ideal point to whisk to is when it forms a stiff peak; where the whites stand at a rigid point and don’t fall back down on itself when the beaters are lifted. If the peaks are too soft when you add sugar, then the meringue mixture risks being sloppy and will never thicken. A word of warning though: If you whisk past the stiff peak stage, the proteins will start to break up, making a watery mess that can’t be saved.
There are an art and a science to making perfect meringues, so let’s have a look at a few common challenges that can arise.
Let’s take a look at the problems and their solutions.
- Beading is the formation of sugary water droplets on the surface, caused by overcooking.
- Baking your meringue pie at a high temperature with a short baking time will prevent overcooking the outer layer of the meringue, Thus avoiding beading. For optimum results, bake at 220 degrees Celsius for about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Weeping is when a pool of water is formed between the meringue and the pie filling, this caused by undercooking. To avoid pooling, make sure the pie filling is hot before you spread the meringue over it, then further spread to the edges to seal. A hot filling ensures that the inside of the meringue cooks, thus preventing weeping. Sprinkle fine cake crumbs or soft white bread crumbs over the filling to absorb the liquid between the meringue and the pie filling, this is also a way to prevent weeping.
- Shrinking happens when there is a loss of volume during baking. To avoid shrinking; for every 2 egg whites, dissolve ½ teaspoon cornstarch in water and heat it before whipping it into the beaten egg whites. Refer to the Never-Ever-Fail Meringue recipe for an example of this technique.
Making meringues might sound intimidating, but it’s easier than you think. Looking forward to seeing your creations… until then Dasvidaniya!