THE PERFECT MERINGUE

Forgive me. I am sticking with the egg. So versatile, complex and perfect in its nutritional value. The applications of the egg in the kitchen are endless and often chemically surprising. None more so than the meringue, essentially an egg foam that can be uncooked or cooked, soft or hard. In the world of classical pastry, the most common meringues are classified as French, Italian and Swiss.

French Meringue is the dry one – it calls for 1 part egg whites to 2 parts of sugar. It’s baked slowly until completely hardened but still retaining a quality of airiness once in your mouth.

In the Italian Meringue, the egg whites are partially cooked – it’s perfect for such desserts that require a soft meringue filling or a baked Alaska.

Swiss Meringue is a mixture of the two – the egg whites are heated to 140F to make them safe to eat and then whipped. Quicker to make than the Italian version it is nonetheless less stable.

But it’s tips for a perfect French Meringue we will be dealing with here. Let’s start with the etymology to keep my word craze happy. Despite the Swiss claiming it came from the Swiss town of Mieringen, linguists traced its origins back to the Latin “merenda”, a term every Italian kid knows intimately – it’s a light afternoon meal. In parts of Belgium, it came to define bread and loaves and biscuits and, who knows, maybe someone discovered the benefits of whipping egg whites to stiff peaks and the rest is history.

Once 1 part egg whites to 2 parts of sugar are in your mixer and you are about to start the whipping, there should be a few considerations to make:

  1. Starting with room temperature whites helps.
  2. Knowing if an egg is fresh is also helpful: once an egg starts to age, the white becomes very clear and thinner.
  3. Always make sure your bowl is perfectly clean and there are no foreign particles in the sugar.

Whip egg whites until foamy and add 1/4 ts of cream of tartar or 3 drops of lemon juice (the acidity will stabilize the foam by lowering the ph of the albumen).

While still whisking (if using a mixer, it should be at high speed), start adding the sugar in a steady stream. Keep on whipping until you reach stiff peaks but do not overwhip to the point that the meringue breaks.

Immediately put the meringue in a pastry bag and pipe it on a cookie sheet covered with parchment (or silpat). Stick in the oven as soon as you are done and bake at 220F until dry (between 40 mins and 1 hour). If using an electrical oven, you might want to leave the door slightly ajar to let the steam escape more freely. You will know the meringue is done when it easily detaches from the parchment. Let cool inside the oven you will have turned off.

Stored in an airtight container  the meringues will keep for a couple of weeks. Serve with whipped cream, macerated fruit or anything your heart desires.

Tonight I will be adding chopped dried cherries to the unbaked meringue and will serve it with Kirsch whipped cream and strawberries.

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