Meringue

Meringue

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From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

There are many variations of meringue – all based on egg white and sugar beaten to a stiff froth, then baked. They include small meringues, baked in a very slow oven until light and crisp. Glamorous vacherins, dainty petits fours and mountainous fluffy pie toppings are all favourites. Meringues are usually plain but a flavouring may be added such as chopped nuts, chocolate or coconut.

Meringue mixture can be shaped and used in many different ways. Small buttons or rosettes baked until dry and crisp may be joined together with whipped cream to make a delicious sweet for afternoon tea or dessert. These tiny meringues may also be used as a topping for desserts or cakes. Another popular way is to shape meringue with an oval dessertspoon or tablespoon, and these ovals may be joined with whipped cream to form an egg shape. Meringue is often made into a pie shell or basket – individual baskets are very popular, and these may be filled with fruit, whipped cream or any number of creamy desserts.

A light meringue is often piled onto a baked, sweet pie or pudding and placed in a moderately hot oven just long enough to tint the meringue; it should be soft and marshmallow-like inside; the crust may be crisp or soft, depending on the treatment. See Lemon Meringue Pie and Lime Meringue Pie.

Another favourite meringue is the Pavlova, which, with whipped cream and tart-sweet passionfruit or strawberries, is a dessert sweettooths can never resist.

To prepare meringue: Egg whites for meringue should be at room temperature and beaten with a pinch of salt, cream of tartar, or a few drops of lemon juice. This may be done in a copper bowl with a wire whisk or a glass bowl and electric beaters. The slightest trace of yolk in the whites will inhibit their rising (yolks contain fat). The same holds true for bowl and beater: both must be totally free of fat or grease. It is best to wash the bowl and beater with hot water and dry them with a clean, fresh towel before beating the whites.

Part of the sugar should be added gradually at first, after the whites become foamy. The meringue has been sufficiently whipped when the whites form soft peaks and cling to the beater in a mass. You have over-beaten if they look dry and stand in sharp, jagged peaks, and the mixture will probably fall when placed in the oven. Then the remaining sugar is folded in. To do this, cut gently down through the mixture and lift some mixture up and over onto the top, repeating until whites and sugar are lightly mixed. Don’t worry about mixing thoroughly; it is important not to overwork meringue or air bubbles will break down. Shaping meringues will mix whites and sugar a little more.

The oven temperature should be as low as possible. The point is to dry the meringue by getting all the moisture out of the mixture rather than baking it. A temperature of 120°C is as high as it should go. Higher than this, the meringues brown too quickly, turn leathery and collapse. Properly baked, a meringue is crisp, feather-light, the palest bisque in colour, almost white. If liked, meringues may be dusted lightly with caster (superfine) sugar before baking.

Bake meringues for about 1 hour, although they may be left in the turned-off oven to crisp. Once they are completely cool, meringues keep a long time in airtight containers. Excess moisture in the air makes them soggy, so it is best not to bake meringues on a very damp or rainy day or have anything steaming on the stove when they are out of the oven and cooling on wire racks.

The baking trays for meringues should either be lightly buttered, dusted with flour, and the excess flour tapped off, or they may be covered with non-stick baking paper. Baking trays coated with non-stick surfaces are also excellent.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
see method for ingredients

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