Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Make Meringues

Meringue - a fancy name for dried egg whites and sugar. This basic mixture is used in countless ways and in all kinds of desserts. Instead of drying, it can be poached to make oeufs à la neige (snow eggs). Mix it with nuts and you get dacquoise (also the name of a dessert cake using meringue as a base).

Here I'm sharing the simple technique of whipping them up, and drying them into little, lady finger like cookies. I'll share more elaborate techniques, later.

Equipment needed
Large mixing bowl
Measuring cups and spoons
Hand mixer
Rubber spatula
Metal spatula
Baking sheet

6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar*
pinch cream of tartar**
butter and flour to coat baking sheet***

mostly stiff egg whitesSeparate the eggs, saving the yolks for some other dish. Put the egg whites into a large mixing bowl. Add the cream of tartar. Using a hand mixer on medium-high speed, whip the egg whites until they start to hold their shape.

When egg whites are beaten, some of the hydrogen bonds in the egg protein break. This causes the protein molecule to unfold itself and get stiff. The cream of tartar acts as a binder for these broken protein chains.

Gradually add 1 cup of the sugar and continue to beat the eggs for one minute. They should be very stiff and shiny. Don't over-beat them! They will loosen up and become liquid.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Folding in the sugar at the end makes for a more tender meringue.

piping meringueCoat a cookie sheet with butter and flour. Fill a large plastic storage bag or pastry bag with the egg white mixture. Pipe out plane or fluted meringues, about the size and shape of lady fingers (about an inch wide and 3 inches long). Lift the bag at the end in sharp, upward motion to avoid creating a long tail. Dipping your fingers in cold water, push the tails down, or leave them if you don't mind the look of them.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the meringues for 1 hour 45 minutes, to 2 hours or so. The meringues should be very well dried. If you have an oven that will go as low as 135 degrees, you can dry them for 24 hours, like restaurants do. Carefully remove the dried meringues with a metal spatula. Store in a dry, covered container. Stored this way, meringues will keep for several weeks. Don't refrigerate them or they'll get soggy.

Meringues can be served on top of ice cream, with fruit, whipped cream, or plain. You can even make little meringue sandwiches by putting a little whipped cream in between two of them. I like dusting them with cocoa powder, as you can see in the picture, above.

*You can use regular granulated sugar for meringues, as well, it just needs to have very fine crystals.

** If you don't have cream of tartar, you can substitute a few drops of lemon juice or even a pinch of salt as a binding agent.

***You can use “cooking spray for bakers,” which has flour in it, if you like.

Photos by Mormon Foodie!