How to make meringue including meringue nest recipe.
A meringue is a mixture that is made from whisking together egg whites and fine caster sugar to form either soft or stiff peaks. This mixture is then cooked by baking it in the oven at a fairly low temperature for a specified time.
The soft type of meringue is normally used as a topping for pies such as the infamous lemon meringue pie
or baked Alaska. This type of meringue is baked at a slightly higher temperature and for a shorter time, which results in a crispy browned meringue on top and a soft and chewy underneath.
The firmer type of meringue has a harder, drier and crunchier consistency and is baked for much longer at a lower temperature. Sometimes the oven is switched off entirely and then the meringues are left there until the oven itself has completely cooled down.
This process can take a good few hours or may even involve the meringues to sit in the oven overnight. This will allow the meringues to dry out, which gives the crisp and dry texture.
This firm type of meringue can be used to make individual cakes or meringue nests, which are then filled with fresh fruit or cream. A typical example would be the delicious fruit pavlova, a light and airy dessert, named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.
There are three different methods that can be used to make meringue. For this article we are going to concentrate on the simplest and quickest to prepare, the French or "cold" meringue.
The French meringue or common meringue is produced by whisking the egg whites until peaks are formed and then by adding sugar slowly, whilst still whisking, until the desired consistency and volume has been reached. This type of meringue will not be as fine or smooth as the other types of meringue once they have been baked.
In order to form a Swiss meringue, egg whites and caster sugar are whisked together and at the same time, heated to a temperature of 110°F in a double boiler or bain marie until the sugar dissolves completely. Then, the mixture is whisked to the desired volume.
The Italian type of meringue is made using a different method to produce a really smooth and fine texture. In this instance, sugar and water are heated to form a syrup, which is then poured into the beaten egg whites and whisked at a high speed.
Making a simple meringue
Although there are only two or three ingredients used to make a meringue, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration regarding these ingredients and then the technique used. If due care is not taken, a potentially magnificent meringue could turn out to be a real flop.
The eggs should be as fresh as possible to make meringue. This is for two reasons.
Firstly, fresher eggs separate much better than older eggs and it is absolutely vital that there is no trace of egg yolk in the egg whites. In second place, fresher egg whites are more stable than less fresh whites once they have been whisked.
To test the freshness of your eggs see our guide to testing egg freshness
Separating the eggs
Although eggs separate more easily the fresher they are, they should also be cold as well. Separate the eggs as soon as you remove them from the refrigerator.
Egg yolk must not enter the egg white mixture otherwise the meringue will not whisk up to its full potential.
However, once the cold eggs have been separated, the egg whites must then be warmed up to room temperature, as this allows them to be whisked faster thus creating more volume.
Cold eggs will reach room temperature after being left out for about 30 minutes.
For more on how to separate eggs see our guide: How to separate an egg
Type of bowl
You may think that any old bowl will do to make a meringue, but in this case you would be mistaken.
Under no circumstances should you use a plastic bowl to whisk the egg whites, as traces of oil or grease may remain from previous use, which would hinder the voluminous whisking of the egg whites.
Ideally a meticulously clean copper or stainless steel bowl should be used for best results. When using a copper bowl, the copper reacts with the egg whites and produces a more stable foam with stiffer peaks. Maximum volume is also obtained.
Some recipes call for the addition of acids such as cream of tartar or lemon juice, which produce the same results. A slightly acidic egg white will stabilize much better and produce excellent meringue.
If you do not have a copper or stainless steel bowl, a glass bowl can work just as well, although you will probably have to add some form of acidic stabilizer.
Meringues hate moisture. Moisture causes the meringue to wilt or sag shortly after cooking and often leaves the meringue with a soggy and sticky texture rather than a crisp, dry one.
Meringues contain a high percentage of sugar, as sugar being one of the two main ingredients. Unfortunately for the meringue, sugar attracts water or moisture from the surrounding air, so you have to be really careful as to when and where you make your meringue.
As strange as it may sound, you should never ever make meringues on a wet, damp or especially a humid day. The sugar in the meringue will attract the moisture from the air and it will be impossible to make a meringue with good results.
The same may be said when it comes to certain activities in the kitchen. If you are whisking meringue, do not boil the kettle or any pans containing water, do not turn the washing machine or dishwasher on or even keep the refrigerator door open for too long. These measures may seem a little extreme, but when making meringue you can never be too careful.
Preferably, you would want to prepare your meringue on a nice and hot dry day.
A high proportion of sugar gives the meringue its exceedingly sweet taste.
As well as sweetening the egg whites, the sugar also stabilizes the egg white foam and helps it to set and keep its shape for longer.
Whenever you make firm meringues you should use the ratio 2 oz (55 g) of sugar to 1 egg white and it is really important that you use a fine sugar like caster sugar. Softer meringues require less sugar, usually half this amount.
The sugar must dissolve when it is added to the beaten egg whites and a finer sugar will dissolve much easier than granulated sugar. Any undissolved sugar will attract beads of moisture, which as explained above, will ruin the meringue.
The sugar must only be added to the egg whites once they have been whisked for several minutes and soft peaks have begun to shape. Adding the sugar too quickly will prevent the egg whites from whipping up to their full potential and only a little should be added at a time, so that it all dissolves properly.
Whisking the egg whites
The procedure of whisking the egg whites should be carried out with an electric whisk if possible. First of all, the whites should be beaten at a slow - medium speed to produce a foamy substance. The speed is then increased and whisking continued until soft peaks that hold their shape start to form.
For soft meringue, the sugar is sprinkled onto the egg whites, whilst continuing to whisk in order to dissolve the sugar. The whisking is continued at a high speed until peaks are formed when the whisk is lifted upwards, which curl over when the whisk is removed.
The soft meringue will then be ready to position on top of a hot pie filling and should be done immediately.
For a firm meringue, which would be used as a meringue nest or individual cake, once the soft peaks have formed, only add 1 tablespoon of sugar per egg white. Continue to whisk the mixture until stiff peaks form in the bowl, which stand up straight as the whisk is removed and retain their shape and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Then add the remainder of the sugar and with a metal spoon or rubber spatula, carefully fold the sugar into the whites, making sure that the spoon reaches the bottom of the bowl.
The firm meringue is then ready to position on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and placed in the oven. To place the meringue mixture onto the lining paper a spoon may be used, although a pastry or piping bag will give a more even and professional result.
Soft meringues are usually baked in the oven at a temperature of around 350°F (175°C) for about 15 minutes. This will result in a meringue topping that is browned and crisp on top and moist and chewy inside. Cook soft meringues according to the recipe used, as each one may vary.
Firm meringues are baked at a lower temperature and for much longer. Different recipes and methods may vary.
The oven is preheated to 300°F (150°C) and then the baking tray with the meringues goes into the preheated oven. As soon as the meringues enter the hot oven, the temperature is reduced to 275 - 250°F (135 - 120°C) and the meringues are baked for several hours until they have dried out.
The heat is then completely turned off and the meringues stay in the oven until the actual oven is cool inside.
The end result is a crisp, dry and white meringue.
Recipe for meringue nests
- 2 egg whites
- 4 oz (115 g) of caster sugar
- pinch of cream of tartar (if copper bowl not available)
- 1 tsp of vanilla essence
- Preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
- Place the egg whites into a very clean copper or glass bowl. Begin to whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer on a medium speed until they become foamy. Add a pinch of cream of tartar if using any type of bowl other than copper.
- Carry on whisking at a slightly higher speed until soft peaks are formed.
- Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, one at a time, whilst continuing to whisk.
- Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form and hold.
- Pour the remaining sugar into the bowl, add the vanilla essence and carefully fold into the egg whites, turning the mixture over and over.
- Put the meringue mixture into a piping bag and pipe out meringue nest shapes onto the greaseproof paper.
- Bake the meringue nests for 3 - 4 hours or until they become firm to the touch and dry. They should not turn brown in colour. Turn the heat off in the oven and allow the meringues to sit inside the oven until the oven is cool.
- Serve with fresh fruit as a filling.