As you may have noticed, I’ve been making quite a lot of meringue-based recipes lately. About three weeks ago, I started with an amazing Strawberry Mousse Cake with Candied Rhubarb Topping, for which I whipped up an Italian meringue to make sure it was super fluffy. And what about that perfect Angel Food Cake I made last week? It’s basically just a French meringue with a little flour added to it. That’s it! Meringue is so easy and versatile. And really, if you want to improve your baking skills, mastering the different kinds of meringue is a good starting point!
So yeah, here we are: the first post of a new series, titled: The Different Kinds of Meringue. Catchy title, right? Not. It’s SEO related, so just fogetaboutit… As you may know, a meringue is basically an egg white foam sweetened and stabilized with sugar. There are three different kinds of meringue: French meringue, Italian meringue and Swiss meringue. Because I made Italian meringue for the strawberry mousse cake and French meringue for the angel food cake, I thought we’d start this brand new series with a post on how to make Swiss meringue!
So get yourself some egg whites!
Oh, wait, I know what you’re thinking: what should I do with the yolks? I can totally relate to that… Who likes to throw away food, right? I don’t… And I certainly don’t like to buy two cartons of eggs just for the egg whites! I always feel bad for the yolks when that happens. So what do you do with the leftover yolks? Well, freeze them. Up until about two minutes ago I didn’t know it was possible, but one of my readers (Hi Kelster!) was kind enough to point out to me that it’s totally possible! The yolks just need a little prepping first. If you don’t prep the yolks before freezing, they become gelatinous and impossible to work with over time. To keep this from happening, beat the yolks with either salt or sugar. 1½ teaspoons of sugar or ⅛ teaspoon of table salt for every 4 yolks. After that, it’s just a matter of pouring the mixture into a plastic freezer bag and throwing it into the freezer.
Just don’t forget how many yolks are in a bag and whether you added salt or sugar. Write. It. Down.
As for me, I didn’t even need to freeze leftover yolks, because I had a freezer full of egg whites already… Egg whites, of course, freeze beautifully! You don’t even need to prep them. All you need to do is plop them in a plastic freezer bag and freeze them. It’s too easy. Whenever I make a recipe that calls for just yolks – such as um, ice cream or lemon curd – I freeze the whites. No exceptions. Sure, you could whip up an egg white omelet – because, um, yum! – or throw the whites in the thrash – tsk, tsk – but just imagine yourself opening the freezer one glorious Sunday afternoon and finding it full of frozen egg whites. Oh, the things you can make with a freezer full of egg whites!
Most home-bakers are familiar with making a French meringue. To make French meringue, egg whites are beaten until they hold soft peaks, after which sugar is added and the meringue is further whipped to glossy, stiff peaks. As this method doesn’t require any cooking, French meringue is an uncooked meringue. Swiss meringue, on the other hand, is a cooked meringue. Does that mean this meringue is a bit harder to make? Well, yeah. But it’s still pretty easy…
To make a Swiss meringue, you’ll need the same ingredients you need to make a French meringue: egg whites and granulated sugar. If you want to, you can also add some vanilla extract or vanilla paste (like I did), but it’s totally optional. As I explained in my post on Swiss Buttercream, the amount of sugar used to make Swiss meringue varies from 30g to 50g (or 7 teaspoons to 4 tablespoons) per egg white.
But what kind of egg whites am I talking about here?
Of course, egg whites come in a variety of different sizes, so it’s best to measure your egg whites by volume or weight. Traditionally, in baking, one egg white is said to weigh 33g. This means that one egg white is about 33ml, or just over 2 tablespoons, in volume. Luckily, we don’t have to be obnoxiously exact about it, but keep this in mind when you decide to use either extremely tiny or frighteningly huge eggs, because the egg white to sugar ratio largely determines the volume, strength and density of the finished meringue.
So how does that work? And remember: this goes for all meringues! French, Italian and Swiss!
As you know, egg whites are basically a liquid. Sure, they’re slimy, but still a liquid, right? A meringue is made by beating air into egg whites. The liquid egg whites spread out to form thin bubble walls, trapping the air and thus creating a big mass of bubbles. As you may know, beaten egg whites (without sugar) are not very stable; they tend to lose volume and if you try to make it in advance, you may end up with a soupy bowl of bubbles. However, when you add sugar, the meringue suddenly becomes more stable. You see, when sugar is added to the liquid egg whites, it dissolves, forming a thick, syrupy liquid with the egg whites. This thick, sugar-egg white syrup makes for stronger bubble walls, which means that the resulting meringue is less likely to lose volume or start leaking. Aka: sugar means stability when it comes to meringues.
But still, how much sugar should you use?
In general, a higher sugar content means that the finished meringue will be denser and less voluminous. Plus, the larger the quantity of sugar, the more flexible the meringue’s bubble walls are and the harder it is to beat the meringue to the point where it becomes dry and yucky. In other words, a meringue with a higher sugar content is harder to mess up! Also, if you want to bake the meringue, the more sugar you add, the crispier the finished meringue kisses or cookies will be.
Consequently, a lower sugar content means that the resulting meringue is lighter, has more volume and is therefore easier to incorporate into batters. It is also a bit easier to over beat, though. So be careful!
But let’s get to the point. How do you make a Swiss meringue and what is so special about it, compared to the other types of meringue?
Well, like I said, Swiss meringue is a cooked meringue. Instead of just beating together egg whites and sugar, egg whites and sugar are whisked together, then heated over a pan of simmering water until the sugar has dissolved. In other words, when you’re making a Swiss meringue, you actually start by making an egg white-sugar syrup. Sound deeeelish, right? Well, not really. But it gets better…
Once the sugar has dissolved, you can either take the mixture off the heat and start a-whipping, or you can continue heating and gently whisking the mixture until it reaches a temperature of about 71°C/160°F. You can use a sugar thermometer or a multimeter to make sure the mixture reaches the desired temperature. By bringing the mixture up to such a relatively high temperature, you’re pasteurizing the egg whites, killing any salmonella bacteria that may be present. Not that I’m usually worried about salmonella, but hey: it’s an option!
And we like options…
Bear in mind, though, that if you do decide to crank the heat up and pasteurize the meringue mixture, you really want to make sure that you’ve added the sugar to the egg whites. You see, the sugar protects the proteins in the egg whites from the heat, preventing them from turning into scrambled eggs. So don’t try heating just the egg whites!
Aaaanyway, whether you decide to pasteurize or not, once the syrupy mixture is taken off the heat you should start whipping right away. Whip, whip, whip until the meringue holds soft, medium or stiff peaks (whatever you need) and feels cool when you dip your finger in it. If you want to add vanilla or other flavorings (such as salt), add it at the very end, right after you’ve whipped the meringue to glossy perfection.
Because of its preparation method, Swiss meringue is a lot denser and less voluminous than the French and Italian types of meringue. For a Swiss meringue, the sugar is added to the egg whites very early on; before any air has been beaten into the egg whites. Consequently, the sugar and egg whites form a very thick syrupy substance that is less willing to spread out into thin bubble walls, which not only makes it harder to whip air into the meringue, it also reduces the meringue’s ultimate volume.
In other words: Swiss meringue is denser than French and Italian meringues. However, it is also a lot glossier, with a thick, marshmallowy texture. Like a down duvet or a Candyland cloud, or something… It is also very stable and you can make it a day in advance. Just keep it covered in the fridge; it won’t start weeping or leaking. It won’t collapse either. Because of this, I think Swiss meringue is the perfect meringue to top pies or desserts with!
Besides, this is the only – the ONLY – meringue that is completely safe to serve to pregnant women, small kiddo’s, old folks and friends or guest with compromised immune systems! Well, it won’t be if you don’t take the time to pasteurize the meringue mixture, but if you do, it’s completely safe! Bring it up to 71°C/160°F and you’re golden. Easy, fast and no risk of salmonella infection… So top your pies with this stuff. Use it to lighten up a dessert. Add some butter to make the most delicious buttercream. Turn it into kisses (it won’t bead, weep or leek!) or eat it with a spoon. It’s 100% safe to eat.
Oh, and try it when it still a bit warm, right after you made it! Love…
- 95g (or ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon) egg whites (about 3 egg whites)
- 110g (or ½ cup + 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
- In a medium-sized, heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.
- Place the bowl over a small pan with simmering water, making sure the water doesn't touch the bowl.
- Keep whisking the mixture until the sugar has dissolved. You can easily check whether the sugar has dissolved by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your fingers; the mixture shouldn't feel grainy. If you're not worried about salmonella, you can take the mixture off the heat at this point.
- If you want to pasteurize the meringue, keep whisking until the mixture reaches a temperature of 71°C/160°F. Once the meringue reaches the desired temperature, take it off the heat.
- Using a hand held or a stand mixer, beat the warm mixture until the meringue holds the desired peak (soft, medium or stiff) and has cooled to room temperature.
- Use the meringue to pipe meringue kisses, cookies or nests, spoon it on top of a pie or cake or use it as a filling.
- As with all meringues, it is best made just before use, but you can also make this meringue a day in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge.