While writing some of the recipes I realized that some of the people that I know does not understand a few of the basis techniques that could help them achieve the best results when making preparations with eggs. A Basic meringue is one of the most important thing to understand if you want to be able to make cakes and baking mix as understanding how to use eggs on all this recipes is what makes the final product a success.
Meringue is a basic part of some mayor cakes and pastries as angel food cake, pavlova, Baked Alaska, Queen of Puddings, Key lime pie, Eton mess and lemon meringue pie
There are three main kinds of meringue recipe that you should know.
French meringue: this is the most basic meringue, is made by beating the eggs whites with fine sugar, this is not a really stable meringue and is normally keep for a short period of time before start dropping.
Italian meringue: this kind of meringue needs a bit more of understanding, and is achieved by boiling sugar syrup until you reach the ball point at around 116C and then incorporate eggs whites as on the french meringue. The result of this is a more shiny and stronger meringue that stays firm for many days, this kind of meringue is usually used for cakes, decorations, souffles and some other kind of baking. The proportion of sugar is usually 30g for eggs white.
Swiss meringue: is prepared by whisking the eggs over a Bain Marie, and then whisk steady until the eggs cook, this will give you a more firm meringue that is usually baked or used as filling for tarts and fruits.
Well now that we all know the general information we need to come to the practical part. how to whisk or how much ? why to whisk? how all this work?.
For some time I have many of my chefs asking me those questions and it amazed me how little nowadays cooks know about the physics and chemistry of the general basic cooking. I would like to start recommending for some of you who are interesting on knowing how things happen! the following books “Mcgee on Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee and “kitchen Mysteries” by Herve this, the first is for those of you who like chemistry and want to understand every detail, the second is detailed enough to help you understand the process of cooking.
Now is time to explain the process on the recipe that we are looking at, let’s start from the beginning, keep your eggs at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before any preparation as the temperature of the eggs is essential to break the hydrogen bonds in the protein, and make them unfold and denature and in consequence trap the air particles on itself creating the bubbles that will make the whites to grow into a foamy texture.
Be aware of where you are going to beat your eggs, the material of the bowl might help you or not. If you use a plastic bowl for example or any other material where the fats are easily stuck it will make it more difficult to lift your eggs as the bowls could have fats particles within its walls and in consequence make it difficult the braking up of the hydrogen bond in the proteins of the eggs. In the other hand if you use a copper bowl, it will react with the eggs and help on the denature of the proteins that will create better peaks when whisking your eggs. In resume, make sure that your bowl is clean of any fat, water or debris before adding the eggs whites.
When breaking the eggs make sure that not egg yolks fall into the whites because the egg yolks fat will mix with the proteins on the egg whites and will reduce their ability to brake and fold the air particles. Brake the eggs one by one on small containers or remequins to avoid having them contaminated with the yolks in case the yolk brakes.
Now that we have finally brake the eggs and place them into the bowl there are a couple of factors that will help you on the process of lifting the eggs whites.
Acidity: the addition of vinegar, lemon, lime or a similar kind of acid will help you to brake the proteins because of their electric charges. A bit to complicate to go in details but easy enough to understand that a touch of lemon juice or vinegar will help you to have faster whisk whites and steady peaks.
Salt: adding a pinch of salt before starting whisking the whites will help the eggs whites to coagulate easily when whisking the eggs.
Cream of tartar: also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate is a acid salt that is used as a stabilizing of egg whites and increase their heat tolerance and volume.
Now how long should we whisk. The eggs white beating is classified in three stages according to the peaks they form when the beater is lifted: soft, firm, and stiff peaks. This is whisking your eggs from soft to hard, being stiff peak when your eggs form a stiff peak when lifting your whisk from the bowl.
Wow!! So much information just to make a basic recipe, but I am sure that after understanding the whole lot, you will never have any problems when whisking your eggs.
Baking meringues is a classic and simple recipe which is mainly whisk egg whites with sugar cooked a really slow temperature for a relatively long period of time
Basic French Meringue recipe:
- 4 eggs (separate the whites from the yolks)
- pinch of salt
- 220 gr of Caster sugar
- the juice of half lemon and the zest
The first thing that you should know is that when making meringues your first enemy, to call it someway, will be the humidity as the whole process is only to make and keep the the products as dry as possible, then try to not make them on a rainy day or just after baking as there will be a lot of humidity around that will make your meringues soft.
Now is time to follow all the recommendations explained before and put into practice your knowledge and common sense.
Pre heat the Oven at 120C. Whisk your egg whites into soft peak and start adding the sugar slowly but consistently spoonful by spoonful without stopping whisking until all your sugar have been incorporated and you achieve a stiff peak, the best way to check it is by lifting your whisk and checking if the meringue does not move and make like a wizard hat, the consistency should be smooth and the sugar should be dissolved completely. One word of caution, make sure that you do not over beat the eggs as this will make the meringues collapse on the oven and crystallize .
By using a spoon or a piping bag make small round cones kind of shape on a silicon tray
(silicon baking mad) or a baking tray with silicon paper, make sure that you leave some space between the meringues to avoid getting stuck together. Place the meringues into the oven and reduce the temperature to 90°C. When you place the meringues in the oven, the initial slightly higher temperature sets their outsides. The lower temperature then dries the meringues rather than bakes them. Leave the oven on for 1 1/2 hour or until the meringues are crispy and sound hollow when tapped on the base. Turn the oven off and allow the meringues to cool in the oven – this will take 3-4 hours
The meringues will have a pale looking colour (not toasted colour), they will be crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside. Place the Meringues on a air tight container and keep up to three weeks.
Remember that the same process could be use to any kind of meringue recipe that you will need, from decorating ones to Souffles