Meringues are beaten, cooked egg whites.
They have been made since the beginning of the 18th century.
Generally two tablespoons of sugar per egg white give a soft meringue, 4 tablespoons per egg white give a hard one. North Americans love all-purpose white sugar, but it is actually better to use superfine sugar (called “caster sugar” in the UK) . The finer sugar dissolves more readily. Undissolved sugar crystals can cause those beads of syrup that form during baking. The sugar mustn’t be added all at once or too quickly, or again, you will have “weeping.” Add sugar a bit at a time and beat well between additions.
While it is better to beat cream while cold, egg whites are better to beat at room temperature because this lowers the surface tension of the white making it easier to beat air in. There must be no yolk, oil or fat in the bowl. A bit of salt and Cream of Tartar are sometimes added. Sugar isn’t added until a foam appears. Beating forces air pockets into the white, which becomes opaque as the protein coagulates in strings around the air bubbles. Stop beating when it is stiff, as continued beating will then break down the strings of protein and the structure will collapse. Once that happens, all you can do with it is scramble it. You have to reach for fresh eggs to start another meringue.
For three centuries now, chefs have told us to make meringue in copper bowl. The copper helps to stabilize the foam and make it harder to overbeat. It also make a creamy, yellowish foam. Science is not exactly sure why copper helps, but it may be that copper ions bind with the proteins in the egg white to strengthen and stabilize them. But for most of us, Cream of Tartar will do the trick and save us from expensive, high-maintenance copper ware.
(Soft Meringues with a crispy outside and soft and chewy inside)
- 2 tbsp sugar per egg white;
- 15 minutes at 350 F (177 C)
- 4 tbsp sugar per egg white;
- 1 or 2 hours at 225 F (107 C) or put in hot oven, turn heat off, let dry for several hours
Why does meringue weep?
- Sugar has not dissolved in;
- Undercooking can cause incomplete coagulation allowing syrup to leak out;
- Cooking at too high a heat can coagulate the protein so rapidly that before the water can evaporate it is squeezed out in beads;
- Even a well-cooked Meringue can absorb air moisture in humid weather, which the sugar then absorbs and forms the syrupy drops (seal in an airtight container to prevent.)