In the past few weeks (maybe due to social media algorithm) I have noticed a lot of post with people struggling with meringue. Meringue is one of the things that reminds you pastry is a science and when you understand the principle of it you can do whatever you want with it and have some fun.
What is a Meringue ?
A meringue is a mix of egg whites that is whipped to get volume and the addition of sugar to stabilise it.
Most meringue have a ratio of 1 part egg whites for 2 part sugar unless used in a recipe. It exists 3 types of meringue : The French, the Swiss and the Italian. Out of the three the French meringue is the less technical. A meringue doesn't like grease or water, meaning everything must be clean and dry.
The French Meringue.
In the French meringue, we use caster sugar only. The eggs are whipped until stiff, we then add the sugar in slowly in what we call a rain motion. If the sugar is poured to fast the eggs will collapse and too slow the eggs will overwhipped and get a grainy texture.
The French Meringue is best used for decoration, cooked or in cake batter to lighten the mixture.
The Swiss Meringue.
In the Swiss meringue, a combination of icing sugar and caster sugar is used. The egg white are poached to 65°C with the caster sugar over a bain-marie. This allow the caster sugar to melt. The egg white are then whipped to a stiff peak, the icing sugar is then added to the mixture. Because the egg are poached and start to coagulate it's harder to overwhipped it and to have a grainy texture. This meringue is more stable and more dense than the French meringue because the egg white are poached.
The Swiss meringue is best use for mousses, buttercream or frosting. It can also be baked like the French meringue.
The Italian Meringue.
The most technical of all the meringue. In the Italian meringue a sugar boiled to 120°C is used. It is the most stable of all the meringues and will last up to 2 days in the fridge, this is why it is the most suited for decoration like on top of a lemon tart. The egg whites don't need to be whipped when the sugar is poured. The main thing is that the mixer needs to be on full speed when adding the sugar, so it doesn't sink at the bottom, and to pour it slowly from one side of the bowl not in the middle of the whisk, otherwise you end up with strand of sugar all around the side of the mixing bowl.
The Fail proof Meringue.
This is a technique I learned a few years ago and it's fail proof. You just need to ensure you use clean and grease free equipment. Put your egg whites and all the caster sugar at the start in the bowl of your mixer. Whipped at full speed until stiff and you get meringue. The mechanical friction will start to melt your sugar in the bowl which will almost act as a swiss meringue.
I Hope all this information will help you in your future Meringue preparation.