Okay, back with the next post of my still-kind-of-new series about the different kinds of meringue, called… here it comes: ‘The Different Kinds of Meringue’. I thought that title was convenient… Creative? No. Self-explanatory? Yes!
It just makes life so much easier…
This is actually the second post of my very well-titled new series. Last week, I started the series with a post devoted to Swiss meringue. Which just so happens to be particularly perfect to top pies with, because – unlike the fluffy goodness I’m discussing today – it’s completely safe to eat! Salmonella-wise, I mean… So, naturally, I followed the Swiss Meringue post with a recipe post in which I used that gorgeous, fluffy, marshmallowy Swiss meringue to top some amazing Mini S’Mores Tarts!
But enough about Swiss meringue and the things you can make with it. On with the Italian meringue! Just a heads up: if you’re squeamish about using uncooked eggs in desserts, you’re wasting your time here. Italian meringue is for those of us who like to live on the edge a little! The eggs in Italian meringue are definitely NOT cooked!
Got it? Good.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I had to make Italian meringue for a gorgeous Strawberry Mousse Cake. I accidentally stumbled upon the idea of using Italian meringue to make a fruit mousse after I completely messed up a whipped-cream-based fruit mousse recipe. Three times! Wait, that’s probably confusing. Let me clarify: me, whipped cream and fruit purée? Bad things happened. Three times! Me, Italian meringue, fruit purée and whipped cream? Match made in heaven.
As I learned that day, Italian meringue is the most stable kind of meringue known to men! And because Italian meringue is so stable, it won’t leak, weep or collapse. On top of that, it is light as a feather! Swiss meringue is delicious and everything, but because of its preparation method it’s a lot denser than Italian meringue. Because Italian meringue is both super fluffy and exceptionally stable, it’s the perfect meringue to combine with other ingredients, such as fruit purée and whipped cream.
Well, if you’re a daredevil and you’re not afraid of those dangerous egg whites it is…
Anyway, this is not only the most stable meringue you can make, it is also the most difficult meringue you can make. Please note that the phrase ‘the most difficult to make’ does not mean that making this stuff is actually difficult. Because it isn’t. It’s a breeze. I can make it with my eyes closed!
Well, that’s not necessarily true… But it’s easy! That’s all I’m trying to say here…
You’ll only need three ingredients: granulated sugar, water and, of course, egg whites. Don’t throw away the yolks! Combine them with a little bit of salt or sugar and freeze them! You’ll thank me later, after you’ve used them to make ice cream or custard or something… You can find tips on how to freeze egg yolks in my post on Swiss meringue. By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d say: go read that post first! It contains tons of valuable information about meringue-making!
Anyway, about the egg whites: make sure to measure them by weight or volume! Eggs come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes, and so do egg whites. Measuring by weight or volume ensures that you’re working with the same sugar to egg white ratio that I used. Which means that you’re meringue will be as fluffy as mine was!
Pretty important stuff…
So what about the sugar? As I explained in my post on Italian Buttercream, the amount of sugar used to make Italian meringue varies from 50g to 82g (or 4 to 6½ tablespoons) per egg white. As I explained in my post on Swiss meringue, the sugar is what stabilizes the egg whites. When you’re making a meringue, you’re beating air into the egg whites, causing the liquid egg whites to spread out and form thin bubble walls. When sugar is added, it dissolves into the liquid egg whites and combined they become a thick syrup. This thick sugar-egg white syrup forms stronger, more flexible bubble walls, making the meringue more stable.
The larger the quantity of sugar, the denser and more stable the meringue will be. Plus, a higher sugar content makes the meringue harder to overbeat and become dry. If you decide to bake the meringue, a higher sugar content makes for crispier meringue kisses or cookies. A lower sugar content, on the other hand, makes the meringue lighter, fluffier, more voluminous and easier to incorporate into batters and fruit purées. However, it’s also easier to overbeat and ruin a meringue with a lower sugar content, so keep this in mind when you decide to add less sugar to your meringue!
Anyway, what’s left? The water, right? There’s not much to say about the water. Measure by volume, measure by weight, eyeball it… It doesn’t really matter. But you do need some. Like I said: not much to say about it…
So that’s it! Just three ingredients: egg whites, granulated sugar and water. Oh, and you also need one of these…
If you’re serious about making Italian meringue, get yourself a sugar (or candy) thermometer. I have two. I bought the more traditional one on the right a few years ago, when I got it into my head that I wanted to make French macarons. It was really cheap and you can get a similar one at Amazon for less than $10.
If you don’t have a (very) small saucepan and are planning to cook up small quantities of sugar syrup, look for a sugar thermometer that doesn’t have a metal ‘foot’ around the bottom end of the thermometer (the ‘sensor’). Most traditional sugar thermometers have one so that the weight of the thermometer rests on the metal foot instead of on the fragile thermometer’s sensor, but I think they’re very inconvenient. See that blue sensor peeking out from under the metal of my sugar thermometer there? My thermometer used to have a foot, but the Rocking Rebel clipped it off for me. If you do own a very small saucepan or if you plan on only ever making large quantities of sugar syrup (say: at least 1½ cups), the metal foot is great! However, if you often work with small quantities of sugar syrup (like I do), the foot may prevent the sensor from actually touching the syrup, which makes it impossible to accurately measure the syrup’s temperature.
The solution: a digital sugar thermometer. They’re a bit pricier than most analog sugar thermometers but they don’t have that stupid, useless piece of metal around the sensor. Plus, they’re easier to read and more accurate! Which is particularly important when cooking with sugar…
I got to tell you, though, I never got around to buying a digital candy thermometer. It turned out that I had access to something else I could use: the Rocking Rebel’s multimeter. A multimeter (or a multitester) is a handy little tool with which you can measure all kinds of different things, such as voltage, current, resistance and, yes, temperature. The Rocking Rebel uses it on his truck and guitar amplifiers. I use it in the kitchen, when I’m cooking sugar. And yes I clean it every time before I use it… Fitted with a probe and set to ‘temperature’, multimeters are just as accurate and functional as digital sugar thermometers!
So, these days, all I use is the multimeter. It’s fast, easy and accurate. If you’re in the market for a sugar thermometer, I’d say get yourself a digital one. They’re faster, easier to use and more accurate than traditional sugar thermometers. But take the time to rummage around in the nearest toolbox first; you may already own a perfectly good multimeter!
So what do you need the sugar thermometer for?
Well, Italian meringue is a cooked meringue. As I explained in my post on Swiss meringue, there are three different kinds of meringue: French meringue, Italian meringue and Swiss meringue. French meringue – which is the kind of meringue most home bakers are familiar with and which is made by beating sugar into egg whites – is an uncooked meringue, because there’s no cooking involved in making it. Italian meringue and Swiss meringue, on the other hand, are both cooked meringues. However, Italian meringue is the only kind of meringue that actually, really, requires some cooking!
It’s the real deal!
The way I see it, Swiss meringue is technically not a cooked meringue. You don’t cook the egg whites, you don’t cook the sugar, you just heat the ingredients over a pan of hot water. I guess that makes Swiss meringue technically a heated meringue, rather than a cooked meringue. Making Italian meringue is a whole different ‘ball game’, though…
So how do you make Italian meringue? Instead of beating sugar into egg whites, an Italian meringue is made by beating a hot sugar syrup into egg whites. Don’t worry, it’s not scary. It just means that you need to cook up a simple sugar syrup. And yes, that is where the multimeter (or sugar thermometer…) comes in. To make the syrup, combine sugar and (a splash of) water in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. At that point, crank up the heat to medium-high and clip on a sugar thermometer. The syrup will first come to a boil, at which point the water will start to evaporate. Because the water evaporates, the sugar gets hotter and hotter and hotter. So be careful when you make this stuff! Wear oven mitts. And a long-sleeved shirt. And an apron. And shoo the dog out of the kitchen, for crying out loud!
As the sugar cooks, beat the egg whites until foamy. You want them to almost (almost!) be able to hold soft peaks. Keep an eye on the sugar, though. You don’t want it to get too hot. Actually, you want to cook it to soft-ball stage. To what?? To soft-ball stage. When all the little sugar crystals start to play ball together…
Nah, just kidding. All this serious talk about egg whites and meringue clearly affected my sense of humor…
Aaaanyway, when you cook sugar, the water inside the sugar evaporates (not just the water you added to the saucepan). This means that the sugar concentration increases and as a result the chemical properties of the sugar change. The hotter the sugar gets – and the higher the sugar concentration – the harder it will be once it has cooled down to room temperature. There are different temperature stages you can bring the sugar up to, and the soft-ball stage is one of them.
But you don’t need to know all that to make Italian meringue. You just need a sugar thermometer so you can cook the sugar until it reaches a temperature of 113°C/235°F. Once the sugar syrup reaches that temperature, immediately take it off the heat – or you’ll risk bringing the sugar up to ‘hard-ball’ stage – and carefully drizzle it into the foamy egg whites, mixing continuously. You do remember the foamy egg whites, right? I bet you do. Drizzle the hot (!) syrup slowly into the egg whites, making sure not to pour it directly onto the whisk attachment of your mixer, or the syrup could splatter against the sides of the bowl or into your face.
Try to avoid that.
Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the meringue has cooled to room temperature and is gorgeously glossy and billowy. Easy as that!
So there you have it: Italian meringue. Like I said, it’s not a good idea to serve this meringue to little kids (under the age of 5), pregnant women, sick people or the elderly. This may be a cooked meringue, but the egg whites in an Italian meringue are not heated to the point of pasteurization. Sure, there is hot syrup involved, but the reality is that adding a sugar syrup of 113°C/235°F just doesn’t bring the temperature of the egg whites up to 71°C/160°F. Some people therefore choose to make Italian meringue by cooking the sugar to the hard-ball stage (121°C/250°F) instead, because the higher heat supposedly pasteurizes the egg whites, but I haven’t tried this myself.
I’m not bothered by raw eggs…
Plus, I loooove this meringue! It’s super fluffy, light and voluminous. The perfect addition to a fruit or chocolate mousse or a lemon meringue pie. But you can also use it to make killer macarons! The right kind: soft on the inside, but with a thin egg shell-like crust!
But more on that in my next post!
- 150g (or ¾ cup) granulated sugar
- 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
- 60g (or ¼ cup) egg whites (about 2 large egg whites)
- In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium-high and allow the syrup to come to a boil.
- In the meantime, add the egg whites to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and mix (with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until foamy and the whites are almost able to hold soft peaks.
- Once the syrup is boiling, clip on a candy (or sugar) thermometer.
- Cook until the syrup reaches 116°C/240°F, then take the pan off the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the foamy egg whites, mixing continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Don't pour the syrup onto the whisk, or the syrup may splatter against the sides of the bowl (or into your face!). Instead, aim for a spot close to the whisk.
- Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the meringue has cooled down to body temperature.
- Use immediately or keep in the fridge (covered) until ready to use. It's a very stable meringue, so it won't start weeping, leaking or collapsing.