Meringues

 

A mixture of stiffly beaten egg whites and sugar or a sugar syrup, meringues are the basis of numerous desserts and confections. Although the equipment may vary depending on the type of meringue you are making, the basic techniques and principles are much the same.

MAKING MERINGUE

Make sure all utensils are scrupulously clean and free of grease. To ensure maximum volume, allow the egg whites to stand in a covered container at room temperature for one hour before use. There are three ways to make meringue, depending on your recipe and its application.

FRENCH

Whisk egg whites using a balloon whisk until stiff peaks form. Gradually whisk in half the sugar, then fold in the remainder.

ITALIAN

With a tabletop mixer on low speed, whisk hot sugar syrup into whisked egg whites, down the side of the bowl in a steady stream.

SWISS

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Keep turning the bowl to prevent pockets of egg white cooking.

TYPES OF MERINGUE

FRENCH: The simplest meringue with a light texture; use for piping and shaping, poaching as in oeufs à la neige, or baking as in vacherin and nests. Use 115 g sugar to 2 egg whites.

ITALIAN: A firm-textured but velvety meringue, made with a hot sugar syrup that ''cooks'' the egg whites; use in uncooked desserts, such as cold mousses, soufflés and sorbets. It holds its shape well, so it is also ideal for piping. To make 400 g Italian meringue, make a sugar syrup with 250 g sugar and 60 ml water, boll to the soft-ball stage (118°C) and whisk into 5 stiffly whisked egg whites.

Swiss: Gives a much firmer result than French; use for piping and other decorative effects. Allow 125 g sugar to 2 egg whites.

MAKING A PAVLOVA

This famous dessert named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, celebrated her visit to New Zealand. It is a unique meringue confection that has a squidgy, almost marshmallow texture, created by adding vinegar and cornflour to whisked egg whites and sugar. The relatively short cooking time is another contributing factor, because it ensures that moisture is retained.

SHAPING MERINGUE

Spread into a round with a large metal spoon, making a hollow in centre.

PEELING PARCHMENT

Carefully peel the baking parchment away from bottom of the cooled meringue.

PAVLOVA

Serves 6
3 egg whites
175 g caster sugar
1 tsp raspberry or wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Whisk egg whites until stiff, whisk in half the sugar, then fold in remaining sugar with vinegar and cornflour. Shape into a 20 cm round on paper and bake at 150°C for 1 hour. Let cool in turned-off oven.

FILLING A PIPING BAG

Professional chefs fill a piping bag holding it in one hand, as shown here. Another method is to pull the sides of the bag over the rim of a jug to act as a support.

1. Fit the nozzle securely, then twist the bag above the nozzle to prevent leakage.

2. Fold the top of the bag over your hand to form a collar; spoon in filling.

3. Twist the top of the bag, until filling is visible in nozzle, to clear air pockets.

SERVING MERINGUES

Fill or sandwich meringues with flavoured cream or try one of the following ideas:

• Sandwich shells with chocolate ganache, sprinkle with chocolate curls, then dust with icing sugar and cocoa powder.

• Toss a selection of seasonal fruits in a little Cointreau. Pile high in nests.

• Layer discs with chocolate or fruit mousse to make a gâteau.

MAKING SHAPES

The change in consistency of meringue - from soft enough to pipe and shape, to firm enough to stack and hold other ingredients - makes it useful for a wide variety of applications and presentations. A simple French meringue can be used, bake it at 100°C for at least 1 hour. Swiss meringue that has been dried out overnight at 60°C gives a whiter result.

NESTS

Mark baking parchment with 5 cm circles. With a star nozzle, pipe the base, working from centre in a spiral. Pipe around edge to create a nest.

SHELLS

Pipe small rounds on baking parchment, using a medium or large nozzle.

LARGE DISC

On baking parchment, trace a circle the size of the disc you require. Using a small plain nozzle, pipe from the centre of the circle, spiralling outwards.