Reaching Lofty Heights: Our Top Tips Will Help You Make the Best Meringue
Meringue is one of those culinary classics that holds a sneaky secret: Making one is way less complicated than it seems. Some cooks are put off by the raw egg component (pro tip: use pasteurized whites if you don't want to live on the edge) while others are just overwhelmed by the steps and process. We get it: Things like perfectly round macarons and swoopy artistic pavlovas can seem a bit intimidating, but the truth is that meringue is made up of two of the most common ingredients around, sugar and eggs. Follow our tips below to get perfect peaks every time.
The Big Three
There are three main types of meringue: French meringue, Italian meringue, and Swiss meringue. Each is made using the same ingredients but there are a few differences when it comes to technique.
First up is the French meringue. This is generally considered the easiest technique; it's very light, but less stable than its siblings. This type of meringue is folded into cake batters and soufflé mixtures to loosen and provide an airy finish or baked into light-as-air macaron cookies. Then there's Italian meringue, a more stable meringue because hot sugar syrup is slowly whipped into egg whites to create a glossy mixture. Smooth it over Lemon Meringue Pie. Last is Swiss meringue, a firm and very forgiving option. This is due to bringing the sugar and egg whites up to stiff peaks together over a low heat. Swiss meringue is a test kitchen favorite when it comes to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
Surprisingly, fat is the enemy of a good meringue (this is dessert after all!). Think about it this way: Egg yolks are what you use when you want a dense, luscious dessert like mousse or chocolate pudding; egg whites will provide as light and airy a texture as you can imagine. When separating yolks from whites, start with cold eggs. Eggs straight from the refrigerator are more likely to cooperate. Separate each egg into two different bowls; one bowl for white, one for yolk. Then add the whites to your recipe one at a time. That way if you get a bit of yolk in one, you haven't ruined the whole batch. Let the egg whites come to room temperature before whisking. This reduces the level of moisture in the whites, and in turn will create more volume when whipped.
Stick with the classics. Granulated white sugar is traditional and makes the best meringue. It dissolves easily and adds moisture and stability to the mix.
Many recipes call for an optional pinch of cream of tartar (xantham gum works, too). It won't change the flavor at all, but it will help when it comes to beating air into the meringue to prevent deflation.
Many chefs swear that copper bowls are the best for whipping: A chemical reaction between the copper and egg whites can create fluffier foam. If you don't have copper handy, avoid plastic and opt for glass or metal instead. The most important thing you can do is make sure your mixing bowls and utensils are clean and dry. Much like how egg yolks can affect your meringue, any traces of oil or butter on your equipment can change the texture of your final product.
The Most Common Meringue Problems, Solved!
Even armed with advice on how to make a perfect meringue, there's a chance you could run into some issues. Here, we're sharing tips for navigating other common problems encountered with meringues—they're all are easily avoided once you know what to look for and avoid!
If you're piping macarons or piling meringue onto a baking sheet for a pavlova, you can make things much easier by securing your parchment paper. Simply pipe or spoon dots of meringue onto the corners of your baking sheet to secure your parchment.
Have you ever noticed some liquid seeping from the meringue atop your lemon pie? Chances are, your meringue is weeping. To avoid this, be sure to spread your meringue over the filling while the filling is still hot.
Overcooking your meringue can sometimes cause beads of moisture to form on the surface, especially if it's a hot or humid day. Don't take your meringue too far, and let it cool completely in the oven (with the door closed or slightly ajar).
Is It Done?
A perfectly baked meringue should release very easily when gently lifted from the baking sheet. If it's close, keep checking every five to 10 minutes.
It's a delicate sweet treat and meringue can be very sensitive to extreme weather, especially humidity. Excess moisture in the air can seep into meringues and make them soft, even after they are baked. Best to avoid making meringue on damp days.