Thursday 1 August 2013

Foundations no.8 - Meringue, Part I

Back when I first started blogging, meringue was one of the things I was scared of making. I bewailed my troubles in an early post on Lemon Meringue Pie, declaring that I didn't know why it was going wrong (if you click through, you can also enjoy my attempt to take photos in the dark with a lamp and a homemade lightbox...). This post is for that past version of myself, standing in the kitchen of my university flat, intensely irritated.

It's also one of the topics that has come up when I've asked for suggestions for the Foundations Series. Meringue is perfect for so many summer dishes - think of all the soft fruit and cream you can combine it with - so it seemed like the right time to tackle it.

Because I want to cover each method, I've decided to split the topic into two posts. This post will focus on the basics of meringue and the French method. Part II covers the Swiss and Italian methods.

The first person to call the glossy combination of egg whites and sugar 'meringue' was a French court cook called Massialot in 1692. Meringue had been made before, however, under different names.

Take a look at the beginning of this recipe from earlier in the seventeenth century - it's easily recognisable as a French meringue:

"Take five ounces of sugar finely beaten, two whites of egg. The sugar must be stroyed in by degrees into the eggs as you are beating them and you must beat them with a spoon a long time. The longer you beat them, the thicker they will be and the whiter..."

A 1677 manuscript receipt book owned by Ivan Day, as seen in Ivan's book, Cooking in Europe 1650-1850.

The recipe is called 'Satin Biscuit', deftly capturing the elegant sheen of meringue.

A few things to keep in mind:

- Make sure your equipment is very clean and free of grease, that you have rinsed it all carefully so no detergent is left and that your whites have no trace of yolk in them.

- It's easier if the egg whites are at room temperature. Older whites are faster to whip, but they're not essential.

French meringue is the simplest of the three meringues. When I first started making it, I made the common mistake of not whipping the whites for long enough, before or after the sugar was added. French can be just as thick and glossy as the cooked meringues.

French often has slightly less sugar than the other types. I usually use a ratio of egg white to sugar of 1 : 1.3. Therefore, if I have 70g of egg white, I calculate 70 x 1.3, which gives me 91g (or 90, if we're being sensible).

In the photos I'm making a mix with 80g of egg white (from 2 large eggs) and 105g of white caster sugar. It's best to use caster or superfine sugar as it dissolves quickly.

Some recipes include lemon juice, cream of tartar, vinegar, cornflour and so on (especially for pavlovas). Generally I stick with the two main ingredients but if you're using a recipe, follow their lead. Adding salt decreases the stability of the egg white foam by interfering with the protein bonding process so I avoid using it, especially at the beginning.

Start with a very clean bowl and whisk (be particularly careful with plastic bowls and utensils). I usually wipe the bowl clean with the cut side of a lemon to make sure. Add the whites to the bowl and have the sugar to hand.

You can make French meringue in a stand mixer, with a hand mixer or with a normal whisk (though be prepared to have an aching arm). I usually make it in a stand mixer so I've put the settings I use below.

Start whisking the whites slowly then increase the speed. I start at 4/10 then move to the 6/10 setting on my mixer. They will start to froth up.

As you whip egg whites, two things happen: air bubbles are incorporated into the liquid and some of the egg proteins begin to unfold as they are tugged around by the whisk. The proteins gather at the surface of the bubbles and begin to bond, creating a network around the bubble walls, holding the gas and liquid in place.

Keep going past the big bubble stage (two pictures up) until you get a foam with tiny bubbles (above). When you lift the whisk out it should leave soft peaks that flop over and don't disappear back into the mix. This usually takes about 40-60 seconds on 6/10.

Watch carefully as you don't want to overdo it - you can't rescue curdled, clumpy whites. Don't panic and add it too soon, either, or you'll reduce the volume, lightness and stability of the foam as the sugar interferes with the unfolding and bonding of the proteins.

When you've reached the tiny bubble stage, start adding the sugar slowly in several additions, whisking all the time.

Scrape the sides of the bowl down then turn the mixer up (I use 8/10). At this stage the sugar is dissolving - if you look at the picture above, you can see the granular texture, and you can feel it if you rub a bit of mixture between your fingertips.

Once the sugar has dissolved, it makes the liquid into a thick syrup, which slows drainage from the bubble walls, preventing their collapse and making the mixture more stable.

Even once the mixture starts to look glossy (as above) you still need to keep whipping.

After a bit, the meringue starts to thicken up and turns a bright, snowy white. The picture above shows the meringue at the soft peak stage. Some recipes call for you to use the meringue at this point, but for most you keep whipping.

Finally, you reach stiff peaks. When the whisk is pulled slowly out, the mixture should stretch like a ribbon between the bowl and the whisk. When it's pulled away, the meringue peak should stay strong, like a little mountain. From the point you add the sugar, this usually takes about 2-3 minutes on 8/10.

To make simple meringue nests, pile the meringue into heaps on a lined tray (this mix makes 6 to 8), use a spoon to make a dip and then bake for 60 minutes at 100C/210F. Turn the oven off and leave to totally cool (I usually do this overnight). Transfer to an airtight box if you're not serving them immediately. This makes the sort of nests I like with a crispy, creamy crust and a squidgy, chewy interior.

This is the eighth post in my Foundations series - the next part of this post covers Swiss and Italian meringue.

Three more ways to use French meringue:
Strawberry Meringue Cake
Eton Mess
Raspberry Pavlova Ice Cream


  1. Meringue is something that is so useful to learn to make. I don't think I have ever tried the other two methods but I definitely see meringues as one of a few things I couldn't buy. Home-made are just the best and well worth mastering :)

  2. Sur votre dernière photo, il y a un visage dessiné dans vos blancs d'oeufs. Regardez bien, vous verrez deux yeux, avec deux gros sourcils, un nez et une bouche.

  3. poiresauchocolat1 August 2013 at 23:38

    I think so too - the shop bought ones are often so dry and powdery and taste a bit funny. Thanks for commenting.

  4. poiresauchocolat1 August 2013 at 23:40

    Hehe, vrai - je pense qu'il ressemble à Chewbacca!

  5. Thank you for this post! Even though i can do meringue I am always scared I am adding sugar too early or too late or not whisking enough! Oh the list goes on. Thank you for such a lovely and detailed tutorial.
    Also that choc Caramel sauce was lovely on cheesecake

  6. This is such a helpful post! I've made so many terrible meringues that I've sort of given up on making them, but I'll think I'll give them another go now:) Thank you!

  7. This post is fantastic Emma! So much detail and science behind the process and so helpful for people just starting out with meringues. Looking forward to your next post too - I've just got a thermometer after years of being scared to buy one so I can heat sugar to my heart's content!

  8. Hi Emma, i made a layered dessert which I topped very icily with a French meringue. After a few hours in the fridge it began to "weep". The only explanation of this I managed to find was that it said the meringue had been over whipped. I don't think possible as I didn't beat it for as long as you say, so is this possible with under whipping?

  9. I love making meringue but have only attempted the French method. The whole boiling sugar liquid part of the other methods scares me in the same way frying doughnuts does. I love the foundations series, it's a great way to take the fear out of the more complicated methods.

  10. Thanks Emma, the pictures are very useful. I've sometimes had meringues collapse into nothingness once baked - is that because I've moved them out the oven before they're entirely cool or was I doing something wrong in an earlier stage?
    My local market has a glut of raspberries at the moment, I think this might be the weekend for a chocolate raspberry pavlova...

  11. Megan Elizabeth Scott2 August 2013 at 18:05

    God, this is so wonderful! I love seeing the process broken down like this. I've made successful meringue before, but often I stop short because I'm afraid of over-whipping. I will definitely reference this the next time I make meringue. Do you ever use xanthan gum to stabilize the meringue or does that have a negative effect on the texture?

  12. Bless you! I'm terrible with meringues but love them so much.

  13. What a fantastically detailed post. No-one should be scared of making meringue after reading this. All the detail is like having you in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to your French and Italian meringue post.

  14. J'ai pas trouvé de photo avec Chewbacca, mais d'un lunch sur le tournage de Star Wars. Je suis sûre que l'équipe aurait adoré, une de vos meringues en dessert.

  15. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:17

    I'm so happy you like it, Belinda - thank you for telling me. The cheesecake sounds wonderful - was it a baked one? Vanilla?

  16. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:17

    I hope you do give them another go! I'm so pleased you found it helpful.

  17. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:19

    Thanks Kate! I'm glad you're looking forward to the next one - I'm excited to see what you'll do now you have a thermometer.

  18. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:34

    Yes - weeping can definitely be caused by underwhipping as the foam/protein structure isn't strong enough so the liquid starts to separate. Also, did you cook it? Uncooked French meringue isn't stable over time (Swiss or Italian are better if it needs to sit for any length of time before serving) so it might just be that.

  19. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:35

    Only the Italian method involves boiling sugar syrup - the Swiss is cooked over a bain marie, so it's not quite as scary! I'm so pleased you like the series.

  20. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:37

    Chocolate raspberry pavlova sounds amazing. What do you mean by collapse into nothingness? Do they weep? Collapse flat? It might be that they weren't fully dried out or were then put somewhere humid, or I guess it could be an earlier stage - was the meringue nice and stiff and glossy?

  21. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:38

    I'm so pleased you like it, Megan! I've never heard of using xanthan gum, to be honest. Is it to stabilize it so it can sit without weeping or so that it's easier to whip?

  22. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:39

    I hope you try them again Jenni, especially if you love them :)

  23. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:39

    Thank you! I'm so glad you like it.

  24. poiresauchocolat4 August 2013 at 13:48

    Je mets un lien vers une photo de Chewbacca dans mon commentaire ci-dessus. J'aime cette photo, merci!

  25. yep a baked mascarpone cheese cake. It was a chai spice one instead of vanilla. My friends loved it, even ask if they could get taught on how to make it

  26. Megan Elizabeth Scott4 August 2013 at 16:54

    The idea is that meringue with xanthan gum added will make the meringue more stable as it sits. For instance, if you wanted to make a meringue-covered cake for a party but knew it would have to sit out for several hours. The xanthan gum would prevent weeping and deterioration.

  27. I've never had them weep (fortunately - poor things), but I have had them collapse flat. Very, very flat. I tried this weekend though - following your method above - and the results were lovely. Thanks!

  28. Isn't xanthan gum also used in ice cream? Something about making the texture creamier and smoother.

  29. poiresauchocolat5 August 2013 at 13:32

    I'm so glad they worked out! That's brilliant. What did you have them with?

  30. poiresauchocolat5 August 2013 at 13:33

    Ah, how interesting. I've never used xanthan so I'm not sure how it would change it. I'd love to know what happens if you try it. It's used a lot on gluten free baking, too.

  31. poiresauchocolat5 August 2013 at 13:35

    I like the idea of chai cheesecake. Did you set the sauce on top or pour it over warm?

  32. It had a small dip in it so I poured on top so it pooled like a shiny lake.

  33. Emma, I keep staring at those gorgeous meringues in your top photo - they are so glossy and beautiful. A great post Emma - I love your foundation series. SO so helpful!

  34. Clouds of cream, swarms of raspberries, and a chunky roasted strawberry/balsamic sauce from overly squishy strawberries. I really loved the chew in the meringue centre.

  35. poiresauchocolat6 August 2013 at 10:08

    Uuhhh that sounds amazing. I'm hungry now!

  36. poiresauchocolat6 August 2013 at 10:09

    Thank you Erin! I'm so pleased you like the photo. I love the way meringue looks in b&w.

  37. I missed this post! I actually made chocolate pavlova with cream cheese frosting and kiwi today and they turned out amazing. While making I had so many questions in mind, but I just followed intuition and it all went well. Reading this, I now know where I went right! Will make the second making much easier. thank you!

  38. poiresauchocolat8 August 2013 at 21:13

    I'm so happy you think it's helpful. I hope you don't miss the second part - I've just posted it :)

  39. Moisture? A humid environment like the fridge makes meringue weep.


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