Meringue is whipped egg whites often combined with sugar that can be either baked, as a topping on pies, or as cookies or shells for specific desserts. Unbaked meringue is used to fluff up popular dessert favorites like chocolate mousse.
Mastering meringue takes the finessing that comes only with experience. Still, the foolproof tips and techniques explained below can shorten your learning curve. Remember, practice plus patience makes perfect, and if you have to start over, keep in mind, it is just eggs and sugar.
- The most essential point to keep in mind while using eggs is separating egg white and yolk. Separate the eggs while cold, and then let the whites stand, covered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before beating.
- Crack eggs on a flat surface rather than the edge of a bowl. This reduces the chance that a shard of shell will puncture the yolk.
- Carefully separate one egg into two small bowls -- one for the yolk, one for the egg white. Evaluate the egg white to determine if it is free of impurities before adding it to a larger mixing bowl. Repeat the process. With this strategy, if a little yolk lands in a white, you will contaminate only one white, rather than the entire batch.
Opt for a copper, glass, or metal bowl, rather than plastic as plastic has more tendency to retain fat from previous uses. Just before using a copper bowl, clean it with salt and lemon juice or vinegar, then rinse with cold water and dry thoroughly.
Sugar not only sweetens the egg whites but also helps to create a thicker structure than what egg whites alone could achieve.
It may take a while to coax egg whites to a frothy, cloud like consistency. Beaters with many tines, such as standing mixers' whisk attachment or a handheld balloon whisk, will incorporate air into the mixture faster and more efficiently than a standard whisk. A standing mixer also tends to yield a more stable meringue. If beating by hand, use the biggest whisk you can find.
Once you have filled the mixture into a plastic bag, punch a hole, hold the bag at the top and squeeze lightly to avoid deflating the mixture. Do not touch the tip of the bag to the parchment paper or you will lose volume.
Meringue sometimes forms beads of moisture or liquid on its surface as a result of overcooking. To avoid, try increasing the oven's temperature and decreasing the baking time. Keep in mind that too high a temperature may cause the meringue to brown slightly.
Sometimes a small pool of liquid forms between the meringue and another layer of a dessert, such as a pie filling; this is referred to as weeping. To prevent this, never spread meringue over a cold filling. Instead, spread while it is still hot. The filling's heat will help cook the center of the meringue.
Meringue that is smoothed over pie filling sometimes shrinks from the edges after baking. Be sure to anchor the meringue by spreading it all the way to the crust.
To determine exactly when a baked meringue is done, lift it off the baking sheet. If it pulls up easily, it is ready. If not, continue baking, checking for doneness every few minutes.
Meringue can be folded into cake batter, mousse, curd, or a semifreddo to lighten the texture.
To give meringue a golden, crisp exterior and a soft, warm, marshmallow-like center, whether atop a pie or lemon-meringue semifreddi, toast it lightly with a handheld torch. Alternatively, place the desserts, in heatproof dish, in a 500-degree oven, and bake just a couple of minutes until the meringue begins to brown.
Avoid making meringue on humid days. The sugar in the delicate egg-white mixture readily absorbs moisture from the air, which makes it soft and impossible to achieve thick, stiff peaks. Humidity may also cause some soft meringues to weep or crisp meringues to soften once baked.