Meringue is one of the reasons why I became a pastry chef.
To me, the initially unassuming egg whites and sugar, whipped and transformed into fluffy, ethereal clouds, encompass the magic and beauty of the pastry arts. Their sweet simplicity, versatility and elegance make meringues a must have in everyone’s repertoire–especially in the kosher cook’s–as they are easy-to-make using very few ingredients, they are pareve and can even be eaten during Passover.
There are three basic types of meringue: French (granulated sugar is added once egg whites are foamy or forming peaks), Swiss (egg whites and sugar are warmed on a water bath until sugar dissolves), and Italian (made by beating a hot sugar syrup into egg whites). French meringue is the easiest to master, therefore, the best one to start with.
The following are the golden rules of meringue making, obey them, and these will be some of the easiest and most impressive recipes you’ve ever whipped up!
1. Fats and oils prevent whites from foaming properly. Make sure there are no traces of yolk in the whites you are using. Also, it’s a good practice to wipe off mixing bowl and whisk with a paper towel moistened with vinegar, to remove any traces of fat.
2. It’s easier to separate eggs when they are cold, but egg whites foam better if they are at room temperature. So plan accordingly.
3. Do not overbeat. Beaten egg whites should look moist and shiny. If your meringue is dry and curdled, you’ve gone too far! But once sugar has been added, the meringue stabilizes and it’s harder to overbeat it.
4. When preparing French meringue, add the sugar one tablespoon at a time (too much sugar can sink the meringue) and wait 30 seconds in between additions. If possible, use super fine (also called caster) sugar, as it dissolves faster. You can make your own super fine sugar by grinding granulated sugar in the food processor.
5. Mild acids such as vinegar, cream of tartar or lemon juice give the meringue more volume and stability.
6. Stainless steel bowls are the ideal bowl to use for meringues (although if you are lucky enough to have copper bowls, nothing beats those. No pun intended!!!).
7. Egg whites and sugar have a destructive love relationship with humidity: when they get together, it becomes fatal for the meringue. Avoid liquids near your meringues, try not to make these confections during very humid days or in humid environments. Meringues can be prepared ahead, the trick is to keep them tightly packaged protected from any humidity, and can even be frozen (not refrigerated) for a couple of months. If you are serving meringues with fruit or liquid sauces or garnishes, plate right before serving, otherwise, the meringue will dissolve.
8. Always pipe or spoon meringues onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, for an easy and successful removal.
9. Don’t be disappointed if you ruin your first meringue. That’s how we all learn. Approach them courageously, keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it.
TIP: When I’m pressed for time, I use liquid egg whites. Crystall Farms All Whites work well, and are kosher for Passover.