Today was a snow day, for those in other countries who haven’t a clue what that means, it generally means the weather is so frightful outside that it’s more delightful to stay indoors – so no school, no working, a free day so to speak where you can stay in bed and read or binge watch your favourite show and not feel guilty.
I decided I was going to bake a lemon meringue pie ( see photo to left); now the purist out there would think that would be from scratch but you’d be wrong. One of my best friends made me a real lemon meringue pie (not from a box) and the ungrateful brat inside me didn’t even bother to have the decency to thank her and pretend I liked it because I can be an unthinking individual unable to see the amount of time and love that went into the gesture. I have since apologized profusely and she eventually forgave me. Now where was I, oh yeah, I had the filling cooling while I was whipping up the egg whites and sugar into high peaks of deliciousness when I started daydreaming, like you do, about how they discovered merinque in the first place and if you could use other eggs besides hens. So to the trusty internet I went and here’s what I found out.
A whipped mixture of sugar and egg whites, meringue is used to lighten soufflés, mousses, and cake mixtures; to make pie toppings and to make desserts like baked Alaska and crisp baked meringues. There are three types of meringue; their differences lie in when and how the sugar is added:
French Meringue -This uncooked meringue is the one most people are familiar with. The sugar is gradually beaten into the egg whites once they have reached soft peaks, and then the mixture is whipped to firm peaks. This type of meringue is the least stable but also the lightest, which makes it perfect for soufflés.
Swiss meringue is smoother, silkier, and somewhat denser than French meringue and is often used as a base for buttercream frostings. Egg whites and sugar are whisked over a double boiler or bain marie to warm them, and then the mixture is whipped with an electric mixer into stiff, glossy peaks. Similar to Italian Meringue, the egg whites in this method are cooked and safe to eat without further baking.
Italian meringue is made by boiling a 240-degree Fahrenheit sugar syrup and then drizzling into whites that have already been whipped to hold stiff and glossy peaks. This creates a very stable soft meringue. For those concerned about eating raw eggs, this type of meringue is also safe to use without further baking.
Meringue is magical. It is incredibly versatile. It can be spooned onto pies, or piped into any number of beautiful shapes. It can be baked or poached, whipped into silky frostings, or folded into cakes to make them fluffier. It can be combined with ground nuts, chocolate or any number of flavorings. It can be formed into various vessels for Chantilly cream and fresh berries.
Meringue is a light, airy, and sweet cookie-sized dessert. They are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside that seems like it will melt in your mouth. (YUM!) In order to achieve that texture meringue cookies require preparations such as beating ingredients until foamy and fluffy, and cooking for a longer time under a lower temperature until meringue becomes dry on the outside.
Marbeled meringue hearts
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Food coloring, optional
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Place egg whites in a large bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 200°. Add vanilla and cream of tartar to egg whites; beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, on high until stiff peaks form. Remove 1/4 cup and tint pink. Lightly swirl pink mixture into remaining meringue. Fill pastry bag with meringue. Pipe 2-in. heart shapes 2 in. apart onto prepared baking sheets.
- Bake until set and dry, about 20 minutes. Turn oven off; leave meringues in oven until oven has completely cooled. Store in an airtight container.
Many bakers comment that duck eggs have a higher fat content that make cakes rise higher and the meringues are more stable and can get more volume. As for who invented merinque, there is some confusion around who, and why but the when is in the 17th century.
Fun Fact: August 15th is National Lemon Meringue Pie day!! Wouldn’t be at all humid that time of year in North America. LOL