French, Italian and Swiss are the names used to distinguish the main types of meringue making techniques.
French is where the egg whites are whisked to form stiff peaks before adding the sugar. Italian, where the sugar is dissolved in water and boiled to 115°C (softball) to make a syrup which is then added to whisked egg whites.
And then there is the Swiss. Here the egg whites and sugar are whisked together over a pan of simmering water to a temperature of 78°C to form a stiff foam, then removed from the heat and whisked until it is cool.
There are two methods for adding the sugar to the French version. In Version 1, the sugar is just folded through. In Version 2, where a firmer texture is required, the sugar is gradually whisked into the stiffly beaten egg whites creating a firmer French meringue.
To make the kind of meringues that you wish to just pop in your mouth or dip in cream and have with strawberries, you are best to choose either the French Version 2 or the Swiss method. The Italian method is more suited to adding lightness to cake fillings and mousses, is the base for frozen parfait and is perfect for lemon meringue pie and Bombe Alaska.
The higher the sugar content the stronger the meringue will be and often also crisper once baked. The earlier the sugar is added to the egg whites during the whisking process the firmer and finer the texture of the final meringue will be. The same can be said about the application of heat. If heat is incorporated into the process of whisking the egg white, the firmer the structure will be.
The French Version 2 method is an uncooked meringue mixture and is the quicker and simpler of the two, however, the Swiss cooked method will achieve more consistent results due to the heat and dual whisking with less risk of common meringue problems such as beading (when undissolved sugar crystals start to grow and form bubbles) and a grainy texture. This is the method that I have used here based upon a recipe by Nico Ladenis from his book My Gastronomy.
Older recipes may ask you to reach for your copper bowl to achieve excellent glossy egg-white foam. In the 2004 edition of his book On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen Harold McGee expands upon this theory and extends it to conclude that a pure silver bowl will also suffice. Whilst they do have benefits, they are expensive and impractical.
A primary factor for successful egg-white foams is meticulously clean bowls and whisks — no trace of egg yolk, oil, fat, or cleaning detergent. The addition of a measure of cream of tartare added at the commencement of whisking the whites will also help produce stiffer, glossier egg-white foam with less effort in shorter time. The constant agitation, the cream of tartar and the temperature also helps to reduce the risk of Salmonella.
The biggest problem for meringues however is humidity, and regardless of which method you choose the meringues should be baked in a very slow oven (90°C) for about 2 hours and then left to dry in the oven as it cools.
We sold very large versions of these meringues at Carriageworks Market topped with chocolate ganache which we called ‘Marvels’. The addition of nuts and candied ginger also produces delicious results.
Image Credit: Tomasz Machnik
Meringues — Marvels
- Sugar thermometer
- Mixer with whisk attachment
- Flat baking trays
- Large balloon hand whisk
- Piping bag or two dessert spoons
- 100 gms egg whites egg whites can be frozen
- 200 gms caster sugar
- 2.5 gms cream of tartar
- 75 gms roasted nuts, chocolate pieces or dried fruits optional
- Line two baking trays with baking paper fastened with oil spray.
- Preheat the oven to 90°C (no fan).
- Bring just enough water to boil in your large pot so that it doesn’t touch the base of your large mixing bowl.
- Place the egg whites, castor sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl which will sit neatly on the pot, then place over the pot of simmering water and reduce the heat by half.
- Commence whisking the mixture with your balloon whisk — whisking not just stirring. You want your wrist to do the work in an oval movement across the base of the bowl pulling the mixture up from the base. This will not only better aerate the mixture but ensure that none of the mixture stays on the bottom of the bowl to cook longer than the rest.
- Use a sugar thermometer to track the temperature of the mix until it reaches the desired 78°C. After several times making these meringues you will develop a feel for the mix and the thickness will guide you as to when it is almost at the correct temperature.
- Remove the bowl from the pot and wipe the base of the bowl dry to limit the risk of condensation dripping into the next mixing bowl
- Transfer the mix to your mixer bowl and commence whisking on high speed until it has cooled. It will become thicker and glossier
- Once this has been achieved you are ready to shape the meringues onto your baking trays and bake. At this point you could also decide to fold through 75gms roasted chopped nuts such as skin-on almonds, chocolate pieces or even some dried fruit such as barberries.
- You can transfer the mix to a piping bag to shape your meringues, but I like to use two spoons as I did when I made these at Berowra Waters Inn as a petit fours. For this you need to scoop a spoonful of the mix onto one spoon and then using the other spoon scrape it off to drop onto the tray. They have more grace in their final appearance with this method than piping.
- The meringues will expand slightly as they bake so it’s a good idea to leave at least the space of one meringue between each one. It’s also a good idea to space the rows alternatively so that each row starts where the gap is for the previous meringue in that row. This will allow good airflow through the oven around the meringues for even cooking.
- Bake the meringues in a slow oven (90°C), for about 2 hours and then leave to dry in the oven as it cools. Store in an airtight container.
- Serve with cream, strawberries and chocolate ganache.