What is a Meringue (meh-rae-ng/meh-rei-ng)?
A meringue is whipped egg whites with sugar, used in many bakes and sweet confections like Macarons, Meringue Kisses, Chiffon Cakes, Angel Food Cake and more. There are different ways of making a meringue and based the method its called as French, Italian and Swiss. Here are some of the key elements you should know when making a meringue of any type or method. If this interests you there are more articles I have written in my blog and you should check it out, also do drop a comment below.
Role of Egg Whites:
- Egg whites are full of protein, when whipped the egg proteins uncurl and stretch allowing the bubbles to stay longer and more importantly stable
- Beaten eggs help to incorporate air into a batter and therefore aid in leavening. Use egg whites in room temperature, great if you can use aged egg whites
- Eggs love warmth and will get whipped beautifully!
Separating Egg Whites:
There are numerous ways to separate egg whites but the most easy are the no equipment or free hand method
- Freehand- Break open an egg into your right palm and let the whites slip between your fingers, save the yolk into a another bowl
- Half Shell- Break the egg gently and twist it vertically placing a bowl below, remove the top shell to let the egg whites will flow down, then swap the contents into the other half of the shell. Egg yolk will be saved inside the shell
- Egg Separator- Buy a simple egg separator from any bakery supply store, break open the whole egg to let the whites flow down and the yolk is saved
If you are a beginner try separating chilled eggs, the cold temperature of the eggs make it easy for you to separate without tearing the yolk. Later bring it to room temperature before using
Aged Egg Whites:
- Aging of egg whites reduces moisture and increases elasticity for better whipping. Used majorly in a meringue process.
Leave your egg whites in a loosely covered vessel/container for 4 hours and into airtight glass container or a Tupperware for a day or two in room temperature, not the fridge. I store in a open cupboard in a dark but ventilated place or under work counter. No, the eggs won’t spoil.
- After aging, egg whites can be stored in the the fridge for upto a week.
Bringing Egg Whites to room temperature
After aging if your egg whites were kept in the fridge, then its essential to bring it to room temperature. You can do this by placing the egg whites on the kitchen counter for about 20 minutes or to make it faster you can place it in bowl of luke warm water for 10 minutes. Make sure this water is just above the room temperature and not hot
Role of Sugar in Meringue
- Sugar acts as a sweetener, provides sweetness, enhances flavor and increases the acceptance of the product.
- Sugar is used as a stabilizer to keep the meringue from collapsing. Sugar bonds with water molecules and creates a structure and shape to the meringue and lets the meringue hold well.
- Sugar helps avoid over aeration of the meringue, sugar molecules interfere with the protein molecules to stretch and form a thin film around the water bubbles making the meringue light and airy
- Sugar increases Texture of any baked good but helping the product retain moisture and therefore soft
Which sugar to use for meringue?
Although any form of Sugar can be used to make a meringue, Castor Sugar(otherwise called as Granulated Sugar/Breakfast Sugar) is preferred over home-made powdered sugar or crystalline sugar.
- Castor Sugar has a slightly higher sweetness quotient than the counterpart, making it much more stable and efficient
- Castor Sugar has even texture and hence dissolves evenly into the meringue
- Dissolving time of the sugar into the meringue plays a crucial part in the protein formation, since castor sugar is almost even in size and shape it dissolves in the right time, not too fast or not too slow. Icing sugar dissolves faster than castor sugar and Crystalline sugar takes too long to dissolve.
I recommend using only store bought castor sugar or Icing Sugar(also known as Bakers Sugar/Confectioners Sugar)
Coloring the Meringue:
Use any good brand of food coloring, make sure it is gel based and not oil/water based, oil/water colors do not go well with meringues!
How to Whip the whites?
I use a stand mixer for any meringue for these two reasons, one-Gives a much stable meringue as the rotation is unidirectional & uniform, two- Whipping egg whites take a good sum of time and a stand mixer allows you to walk away without having to hold on to a vibrating motor! Well, if you don’t have a hand mixer then good old electric mixer will do the job. If you have arms of Thor, then you could use a hand whisk
Which utensil to use for egg whites?
Steel, Glass, Ceramic or Porcelain works well. Refrain from using plastic or silicon ware as they retain grease however cleaned
- Rinse and clean your bowl with Vinegar or Lemon Juice. Fat in any form is dangerous when you intend to whip your egg whites to stiff peaks
How much to Whip?
When egg whites are stable enough to stand by themselves without falling flat and at the same time not over beaten and dried! Most of the meringue recipes ask for stiff peaks
I love to add some heat to the sugar before incorporating into the egg whites! You can either toss the sugar in a microwave for 60 seconds or in a warm oven for 15 minutes. Makes the meringue luscious, Although you can choose to skip this step if you are following a Italian method in which the sugar is bought to a certain temperature.
Like every gas burner is different, Every oven is different even if its of the same model or brand, So its very important to understand your oven. Home oven usually have only the thermostat that’s on the outside of the oven to control heat whereas professional oven have a in-build censor that tells about both inside and outside temperature. Inside temperature of a oven fluctuates based on the load and types of bakes. Invest in a good oven thermometer. Baking temperature and time play a trivial role in baking meringue based goods. Adjust your thermostat based on the readings noted from the oven thermometer.
Meringue based products are supposed to be baked at lower temperatures as they are sugar based and are highly sensitive to heat. Meringue kisses bake at a temperature of 70c-100c, Macarons bake at a temperature of 140-160c or sometimes 170-180c based on the recipe/method, Chiffon Cakes/Angel Food Cake bake at 160-180c or lower.
Addition of Acid to egg whites:
About 1 tsp vinegar + ¼ tsp common salt or ¼ tsp of Cream of Tartar is used for every 4 large egg whites. This is mandatory for all meringues, the acid helps the egg whites grow more stable and build better structure
Incorporating Sugar to Egg Whites:
Start whipping at a slow speed until frothy and add sugar tea spoon by tea spoon giving 10 second interval for the sugar to melt and dissolve with the whites. Adding sugar quicker will give you a grainy meringue and will end up in a chewier product. Adding too slow will result in over whipping. Be careful to control the speed of sugar. When almost all the sugar is added, your egg whites should be slightly above soft peak and growing towards stiff peak. Maintain Low to Medium Speed for optimum result, this will also ensure there are no air pockets in your meringue. Make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved before it reaches stiff peak, you can check this by snapping a little bit of meringue against your fingers. Increase the speed to high speed for 60 seconds and you should reach stiff peaks.
Folding Egg whites to a batter:
Although Folding is an acquired skill, if your egg whites are whipped to the right consistency there’s nothing to fret about. A lot of air gets trapped in the meringue and not everything is needed into any batter, be it Macarons or Cake other than a meringue kiss where there whipped meringue is used directly. In a Macaron or a Cake, almost half of the air is deflated in the folding process, this lets your end product with the right amount of air, So know your recipe and fold accordingly. One small tip- take a good amount of time and patience while you are folding.
All the Best