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Meringue Glossary

Meringue takes countless forms. Several of the most classic and common are explained below, along with advice on how to create them with ease.

Baked Alaska

This iconic dessert is composed of sponge cake topped with ice cream and blanketed in Italian meringue. Just before serving, the meringue is toasted with a torch or baked in the oven. The toastier the meringue gets on the outside, the gooier it becomes on the inside, resulting in a marshmallow-like consistency. The meringue insulates the ice cream, preventing it from melting too quickly. 

Tips
Baked Alaska can be made in any size. A special mold isn't required; a mixing bowl or teacup works just fine. Line the mold or dish with plastic wrap to ensure the ice cream slides out without a hitch. Because the dessert needs to be assembled and frozen ahead of time, it's perfect for entertaining.

Buttercream
An exceptionally smooth, silken frosting, buttercream is achieved by beating butter into fluffy Swiss meringue. Buttercream can be adapted to make an endless variety of flavors or colors and is ideal for piping fanciful designs. 

Tips
Be sure to keep the mixer on medium-high and beat until the butter is completely incorporated. The mixture may appear curdled along the way; this is normal. Just keep beating and the mixture will become smooth again. (Although it's best to use buttercream immediately, it can be covered with plastic and kept at room temperature for up to several hours, refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before using, and beat with an electric mixer on the lowest speed until smooth.) 

Dacquoise
This towering "cake" is constructed from layers of baked meringue piled high with fillings such as buttercream, whipped cream, or fruit. To form the "cake," French meringue is enhanced with ground nuts, piped into rounds, and then baked in a low-temperature oven. 

Tips
To create a circular shape for your dacquoise layers, use an inverted cake pan to trace circles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and then flip the parchment before piping the meringue into a spiral form. 

Floating Islands
When poached gently in milk, oval-shaped scoops of French meringue take on a creamy texture and sumptuous taste. They're often served in a pool of custard or other slightly sweetened sauce. 

Tips
Keep the milk just below a bare simmer -- it should give off steam but maintain a still surface. 

Lemon Meringue Pie
Light-as-air meringue complements thick, tart custard in this classic diner favorite. A basic French meringue is generally used, as it is simple to make. However, making a Swiss or Italian meringue tends to prevent the relatively common problems of weeping and beading. Using a sturdier meringue also ensures the resulting dessert is more stable and, consequently, able to be cut into neat, clean slices. 

Macaroons
These delicate little desserts are made by folding ground almonds into airy French meringue, piping it into small cookies, baking them, and then sandwiching pairs with creamy ganache, silken buttercream, or jam. Making elegantly shaped macaroons takes a little practice, but the less-than-perfect ones can still be baked and nibbled. 

Tips
Macaroon batter requires more vigorous mixing than most French meringues, and the result should be slightly thicker than the French version, noticeably shiny, and able to flow like magma. If the piped macaroons appear flat, the mixture was probably overbeaten. To create a smooth surface, pipe each meringue cookie as you would a rosette, bringing the pastry tip to the side of the circle, rather than forming a peak. After filling a baking sheet, tap it on the counter to release any air bubbles. To ensure a shiny surface, let the piped cookies form a thin shell by resting them at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before baking. 

Pavlova
Sure to impress party guests, this rustic, elegant dessert consists of a pillow of baked Swiss meringue that's crisp on the outside, chewy inside, and typically topped with whipped cream and fruit. 

Tips
Any type of fat, including cocoa powder, will deflate a meringue. The trade-off for a slightly less towering dessert is its wonderfully moist, chewy texture and rich chocolate flavor. To minimize the loss of loft, use a fine-mesh sieve to sift the cocoa into the meringue. This ensures the particles are as small as possible and readily absorbed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cocoa in very gently. Then smooth the mixture into a circle using broad strokes to minimize deflating while creating a crater in the center for the filling. (To create a circular shape for your pavlova, use an inverted cake pan to trace circles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and flip the parchment before spreading the meringue.)