Meringues come in many different forms. You get the soft pillow like meringue on top of a lemon meringue pie, which is also the same type of meringue you would use to make a Baked Alaska. Then there are those little meringue kisses – you know the ones, little meringue swirls sandwiched together with a little cream. You have floating meringues ( in GBBO style). Then you have meringue nests, these are the small hollow discs of crispy meringue, the ones that can be filled with cream and fruit. Then you have the Mother of meringues, the pavlova. These are large crowns of crispy meringues, sandwiched and filled with cream, fruit and sauce. These make impressive looking desserts.
Today, we are talking about making crispy meringues. The meringue you would use to make kisses, nests and pavlovas. I will come back to soft pillow like meringue another day. I have done some serious procrastination over crispy meringues – I thought they would be so hard and temperamental, so I always found something else I *had* to bake first. But……
Can I share my little secret with you…..sshhhh don’t tell anyone else…..it’s not that hard. It really isn’t. It’s a very simple process, just each step has to be done right.
The eggs are the main ingredient, so you really need to ensure you get them right. Older eggs work better as their white is runnier, and runnier whites whisk up better and faster. It might be tempting to use a carton of egg whites, to save wasting the yolks ( freeze them for future use), but they don’t whisk up as well as they have been pasteurised. They will whisk up, they just wont be as stiff. Frozen and then thawed egg whites work just as well as fresh egg whites. So, every time you make a dish that just calls for an egg yolk, freeze the white and then when you have enough, make meringues. No waste. Separate your eggs when they are cold, its easier, but bring the whites up to room temperature before you start whisking. Separate your eggs in a smaller bowl, one at a time and add them to your mixing bowl, one egg at a time. That way if you accidentally get some yolk into the small bowl, you only loose the egg, not all of the egg whites. No trace of yolk can be in the bowl, it will hinder the whisking.
Our meringue needs to be stabilised. We don’t want to spend all of this time whipping it up only for it to collapse in the oven. A teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar works, as does a 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Use whichever you have on hand.
Let’s be honest, never in a million years are meringues going to be healthy, so don’t try to reduce the sugar, or substitute the sugar. The recipe needs the sugar. Leave the sugar alone. The sugar needs to be dissolved into the meringue, so icing sugar or very fine caster sugar works lovely. Granulated will at a push but it’s not ideal. If you have to use granulated make sure you whip it until its all dissolved. Rub the meringue between your finger, if it feels gritty, whip it some more. There needs to be so sugar left undissolved. Undissolved sugar leads to cracked meringues. When you add your sugar to the meringue, do so a tablespoon at a time. If you add it too fast, the meringue may collapse.
These little lovelies can be made vanilla or they can be jazzed right up with either liquid flavourings or a better option is freeze dried fruit. Simply crush the freeze dried fruit up into a powder and mix it in with the sugar. If you are going to use liquid flavourings, you need to use alcohol based ones. Oil based ones will deflate your meringue.
Meringues don’t have to be white, they can any colour you want them to be. But, don’t add gallons of liquid colour to it, they will deflate. The best option is a gel based colour. Pro-gel are fantastic, a tiny little dot in enough to colour a whole batch.
To start with ensure your bowl and whisk is completely grease free and dry. The best advice I can offer is to ensure you whip it enough. The meringue needs to be stiff. Like stiff enough to hold the Bowl upside down and have nothing move or fall out. Anything less than this won’t work. But to get it too this point you need to whip it on a high speed. A slow whipped meringue is one that is likely to end up over beaten before it reaches stiff peaks. You will know its over beaten when it falls flat and becomes watery and grainy. If this happens it’s a lost cause, I’m afraid. You need to start again.
Meringues need to be cooked on a low temperature for a long time, we are talking like 100 celcius for any where between 60 and 90 minutes. Then they need to left to cool for many hours in the oven with the door shut. I use the word ‘cooked’ but really you are drying the meringues out, not cooking them. They are ready for the oven to be turned off when they are firm on the outside but springy to the touch, and they lift straight off the greaseproof paper. If they are still sticking to the paper, leave them for another 10-15 minutes, before checking again. Don’t panic that they are not crispy, then crisp up as they cool.
Meringues don’t like moisture, moisture will make them soft and chewy. As soon as they are fully cooled store them in an air tight tub, away from sunlight and heat sources. They will keep lovely for at least 2 weeks.
There are lots of tips but the process is really easy. I don’t understand why I left it so long to have a go.
I would love to know how you get on. The amount of desserts you can create now you know how to make meringue is amazing. There is meringue kisses, meringue nests, pavlovas, baked Alaska or even meringue islands floating on a sea of custard, as per The Great British Bake Off.
I’m really feeling an urge to have a go at a Baked Alaska or a large pavlova . What about you? Whats first on your list?
More questions or just want to show off your creations, ( we would love to see them) pop over to our little baking club on Facebook, we would love to have you.