HANDLE WITH CARE: Over-whisking the egg whites is one of the most common meringue mistakes.
Meringues and fan-forced are two words that should never be written in the same recipe.
That's the advice of Philippa Sibley, who knows firsthand the mess you'll be left with.
"I don't use fan-forced, they're so light they'll blow away," she says.
"You'll open the oven an hour later and there'll be clumps of paper and mixture. I've learnt that the hard way."
Sibley, a Melbourne-based pastry chef, has released a book of desserts that arms readers with the fundamentals - how to temper chocolate and make candied peel, for instance - as well as some rather fancy ways of using them.
Meringues are one of the 'basics' covered in the book, three kinds in fact - French, Swiss and Italian - each with different applications. She shared some basic meringue making tips, as well as the recipe for the French version with Tried & Tasted.
KEEP IT CLEAN
The most important thing when making meringues is to start with equipment and egg whites that are "scrupulously clean".
"If there's a piece of shell, a blob or egg yolk or a drop of oil, they won't inflate successfully," she says.
"Frozen egg whites are terrific for meringues and macarons. It dries them out and breaks the protein down so it inflates much better."
So if you're making a hollandaise sauce or aioli, freeze those leftover whites in 50g or 100g lots.
DON'T WALK AWAY
One of the most common mistakes people make with meringue is over-whisking the egg whites. And once you've gone too far, you can't go back.
"People tend to go too far, the eggs end up snowy and start to break down," she says.
"That makes it hard to fold other ingredients in."
So keep an eye on the mixture at all times.
"I whisk the egg whites until you can start seeing the whisk leaving a trace in the mixture," she says.
"Then add the sugar and whisk and stop, whisk and stop, until when you lift up the beaters you get a bird's beak. It should lift up and fold over at the top.
"If you lift it up and it leaves a whisk-shaped hole, you know you've gone too far. And you can't fix it, you have to start again."
Meringues need a long, slow cook. Sibley recommends using a heavy-based baking tray covered in baking paper (which can be secured to the tray by a few dabs of the meringue mixture) or a silicone baking sheet. A greased tray is a no-no as the meringue will absorb anything oily.
"I generally cook meringue in the middle or low part of the oven," she says.
"Up the top the heat can be too intense."
Preserving the lovely white colour is the aim but even if it goes a bit pink it should still taste fine, she says. The meringues are cooked when they can be easily released from the tray.
"It should come off quite well with the base intact," she says.
Store them in an air tight container.
Sibley uses a crunchy and light French meringue to make 'angel wings' for a dessert. Other ways she suggests it can be used:
- Poke shards of it in a lovely ice cream. Add some of the beautiful berries that are in season now or a fruit puree.
- Crunch it up and fold it through a fool for a bit of crunch and sweetness. You could do a layered thing with chocolate mousse.
- Make little meringue kisses and dip their bottoms in different kinds of chocolate for kid's party. I road tested this one - check out the photo below.
- Create small discs and serve as petit fours
This is not a good meringue for pavlova though (although Sibley's tips do apply). Pavlova recipes will often include cornflour or cream of tartar and vinegar or lemon juice, which helps achieve the crunchy outer shell and marshmellow like centre. Although the French meringue can be used for mini-pavs.
Consider using a piping bag with different types of nozzles for more intricate shapes. For specific designs, such as hearts, use a cookie cutter of the desired shape and trace this onto the back of the baking paper.
Makes 18 angel wings or 18x3.5cm rounds
100g eggwhite, at room temperature
160g icing sugar, sifted
Heavy-based baking tray
Silicone baking mat
Piping bag (optional)
Beating the egg white:
1.Preheat the oven to 90C (you want your oven at this low a temperature because you are essentially dehydrating the meringue rather than baking it). Line a large, heavy-based baking tray with a silicone baking mat or baking paper.
2.Place the egg white in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add 1 heaped tablespoon of the icing sugar.
3.Whisk the whites until the mixture holds "soft peaks". You should still be able to make out bubbles in the mixture.
4.Add the remaining icing sugar. Continue whisking at high speed until the meringue is shiny and holds "firm peaks", also called a "bird's beak".
5.The meringue is now ready to use. Pipe or spoon desired shapes onto the prepared tray.
6.Bake for 1 hr 45 mins (for 3.5cm rounds) or until crisp and dry (but you don't want them to turn pinky brown). You will need to bake larger or high meringues for longer. Remove from the oven and cool on the tray.
Due to the high ratio of sugar to egg white, this meringue is very stable and difficult to overbeat. But always keep an eye on it in the mixer. Don't walk away!
The baked meringues must be stored in an airtight container away from humidity.
PS Desserts by Philippa Sibley. Published by Hardie Grant, $49.95
The first thing I did on the morning of the road test was to check the humidity, high levels being the enemy of meringue. As I read on one food blog: "making meringue ... in 100 per cent humidity is like throwing bread cubes into a pond and expecting croutons." So a figure of 93 per cent combined with intermittent rain had me expecting a sticky, soggy mess. Given how long it took for them to cook, I was glad this wasn't the case.
Knowing when to stop whisking the egg whites was the most stressful part of this recipe. With Sibley's comment about having to start again ringing in my ears, I was probably overly-cautious about this and stopped whisking a fraction before I should have. Better to be safe than sorry I say!
I made meringues of varying sizes and shapes so I could explore some of the different dessert applications I discussed with Sibley. The kisses and small blobs (for want of a better word) took 2 hrs 15 mins to cook. The heart shapes, larger blobs and large discs needed a good 3 1/2 hours. But given they'll store well in an airtight container, it's something you could make the day before or morning of a dinner party and then whip out when it's time to serve up dessert.
Taste and texture wise, Sibley's was spot on with her "crunchy and crispy" description. They're also very light and very sweet, so good to contrast them with some fruit, chocolate, lemon curd or cream. I dipped the kisses in melted chocolate (Lindt choc-orange), the discs were sandwiched together by passionfruit cream (1/3 cup pulp, 3/4 cup cream and 1/4 tsp caster sugar), and the hearts by cream and strawberries. I wasn't entirely happy with the look of the meringues.
I enlisted the help of some colleagues for this taste test. The strongest responses traversed the spectrum from the "best I've ever tasted" to "it's too crispy". It is a crispy meringue so not one to make if you like a soft, marshmellowy centre.
Would I make it again? You bet. It's an easy dinner party dessert - just serve them up with some fresh fruit and a nice ice-cream. Or flavour some whipped cream with some pureed fruit and sandwich them together. It may not be a pavolva, but with the crunch and the cream it's bound to be a crowd pleaser.
- Sydney Morning Herald
Orignal From: How to master meringues