The Art of… the Meringue.
The meringue is an important base in French pastry, a preparation of egg whites whipped with sugar. It is indeed used in many ways. It can be eaten on its own, in cookies, or on lemon tarts. It can make macaroon shells and lighten creams, like the Chiboust cream of the famous Saint-Honoré. According to process, there are three types of meringues, with the easiest being the French meringue.
The French Meringue
The French meringue is created when egg whites are whipped with caster sugar. The egg whites are whipped on their own and when they are frothy, the sugar is added while continuing to whip until a firm consistency is obtained. Then they are poured in the desired shape on a baking sheet and dried slowly at low temperature (185-195 °F for several hours). The crispy consistency of this type of meringue makes it a pastry in its proper place and is best eaten as is. As they have a rather neutral taste, they can also be flavored, most commonly with cocoa, vanilla, coconut, or lemon, and decorated with slivered almonds. The French Meringue can be kept for two weeks in optimal conditions and up to three months in the freezer, but always in a dry place.
The Swiss Meringue
The second type of meringue is the Swiss meringue. It is made by whipping egg whites with powdered sugar in a bain-marie (also known as a water bath or double boiler). The egg whites are first whipped alone in a bain-marie and then, when the mixture becomes frothy, the powdered sugar is added while continuing to whip. When the mixture reaches consistency, the whipping is finalized off the heat. The finished appearance is smooth and shiny. It is then baked for about 15 minutes in a hotter oven than the French meringue, at about 266°F.
The Swiss Meringue’s consistency is very firm and less crumbly than the French preparation. So, it can be used to make decorations. The items are shaped on a baking tray before baking. The shelf life can be up to three weeks in good condition.
The Italian Meringue
The third and last type is the Italian meringue. It is made by whipping egg whites with cooked sugar. The final meringue itself is not cooked. Contrary to what its name might suggest, it is typically made in France. The sugar must first be cooked in a small pan (~244 °F). Then after the egg whites are whipped into foam, the hot sugar is poured (while continuing to whip) until the mixture forms a tight mousse as it cools. The finished look is shiny and compact but very light.
This meringue is essential because it is used in many different preparations. For example, it is used to lighten mousses, soufflés and custards. But it is also used to cover other pastries such as pies and meringue desserts. Finally, it is also the basic principle for making macaroon shells or marshmallows.
I hope you enjoy the short video I have made to accompany this article, and that you will give it a try at home.
Bon courage !