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!
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- 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.
Yugraj Gulhane says
i am food lover and i just started baking from last month and i was looking for this recipe from long time ,
well i tried this recipe but in some way you can say, now thinking where i missed this ,
hmmmm so here are the mistakes list
1 i didnt maintain the measurement of eggwhite, sugar and water(5eggwhites, 200gram sugar, 1cup water)
2 lack of focus
3 i dont have thermometer
4 i tried to make pavlova with it and set the temp in double
but it was so yummmyyyyyyyy
i dont want it much sweet even i am indian and on it i am milksweet shop owner making and selling many indian sweets
i am looking for less sugar treats with better flavor between i made honey roasted pears and plum sauce which was the only turn on thing for me
but yes your recipe helped me lot to understand how it should not be so will make it again on this wednesday with full focus
oh ya i try to make some fusion with this as i used cinnamon, star anise and cardamom to season the sugar syrup which turned out well and yummy i hope you can try it to chef if you like to
many many thanks for ur recipe again
i got this link from my first baking teacher La Madeleine de Cécile
The Tough Cookie says
I’m so glad you liked the recipe Yugraj, even though you tweaked it a bit 😉
joelle chan says
I tried to make it and bake it at 95 deg for an hour. It become sticky when i try to dry them.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Joelle, drying meringues in the oven can be a pain, because how long the meringues need to be dried depends on the humidity. When it’s rainy out, I sometimes have to leave my meringues in the oven for 4 hours! If you bake them at a low temperature, you don’t have to worry about overbaking, and you can just leave them in the oven until they’re completely crisp and you can easily remove them from the baking parchment. Hope this helps 🙂
Carol Young says
Hi Joelle I have had two attempts at Italian Meringue and both attempts turned out waaaaay too thick, sticky and unworkable. Only heated up to 220 as syrup started to colour slightly so added to soft peak whites slowly kept beating for a bit, turned out very thick could not pipe out of bag and almost a chewy texture on it’s way to nougat I’d say. Thoughts?
The Tough Cookie says
Joelle? Who’s that? 😉
Anyway, about your question, did your sugar syrup start to color at only 220 degrees F? That’s crazy! I have no idea what happened there. Sugar syrup usually caramelizes at around 320 degrees F. Did you by any chance use fructose? Because that will caramelize at a temperature of 230 degrees F.
Hi there! Thanks for the recipe! I attempted both swiss and italian meringues and neither of them came out! I tried with both egg whites from a shell, and from a carton, and neither would work!
For the italian, I heated the sugar to 240 degrees, I added it in a slow stream to my egg whites, which were beaten to a soft peak, and i mixed, mixed, and mixed. It was very soupy, and then only mixed to something like a melted marshmallow consistency – it still tasted good, but was definitely not a nice, stiff icing. It was shiny, and beautifully white, but no matter how long i mixed, it wouldnt stiffen. The egg whites seemed to be foaming up nicely, so I don’t think it’s a yolk or grease problem in the bowl, but it wouldnt take to the sugar syrup. I tried to put the mixture into the fridge to cool it more, and mixed again, but still nothing!
I had a similar experience with swiss meringue buttercream, so I don’t know if it’s me, or the mixer (kitchen aid with whisk attachment). For the record, I’ve made both meringues and macarons with great success in the past, but this icing will not mix up for me!
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Rachel, that’s so weird! Here’s what you could try, though. First of all, use a heatproof glass or metal bowl, not a plastic one. Plastic bowls can have a greasy residue. Wipe the clean bowl and beaters with a paper towel with a little bit of lemon juice before you start beating the egg whites. Bring the sugar syrup up to temperature, then transfer the mixture to a heatproof measuring jug to stop the cooking process before drizzling it into the beaten egg whites. You may also want to test whether your sugar thermometer is accurate by measuring the temperature of boiling water. If the sugar syrup isn’t brought up to the right temperature, the syrup might still contain too much moisture for the meringue to take. I hope this helps! I’d love to hear back from you 😉
Nicky brown says
Hi, just writing to say perfect Italian meringue…no problems just followed the recipe to the letter! I made lemon cupcakes when baked and cooled added a blob of lemon curd then piped Italian meringue on top. Lemon meringue cupcakes… Gorgeous…enough to cover 12 cupcakes. Thanks for recipe
The Tough Cookie says
I’m so glad you like the recipe Nicky 🙂
Nicky brown says
Hi, re lemon meringue cupcakes forgot to leave rating
How can I make meringue with only a minimum of sugar?
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Penny, for an Italian meringue, the minimum amount of sugar you should use is about 50g per egg white. Since an egg white weighs about the same, the ratio is thus 1:1. For every ounce of egg white, you should use an ounce of sugar 🙂
It worked for me, and I used powdered egg whites! Thx for the step by step!!! Never going back to just boring sugar!
The Tough Cookie says
I’m so glad this method works with with powdered egg whites, too, Sobia 🙂
Jaime Loh Hellesoy says
Hi Nila, Thank you for your explanation on how to cook the Italian meringue. Thought your idea of using the multimeter is brilliant. I made a lemon meringue pie not long ago and was using a standard thermometer to measure the temperature of Swiss, couldn’t get the right temperature. End up with an over cooked meringue that wouldn’t rise from whipping. I had to make a 2nd one, taking chances of not using a thermometer and poison by salmonella. Managed this time round without poisoning myself.
I will use the multimeter next time when I make the meringue again. I love your wicked sense of humour.
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Jaime, nice to meet you. Thank you so much for all your kind words! 😀 The multimeter is indeed a great tool in the kitchen. Who would have known, right? Oh, and I have to show your comment to the Rocking Rebel: I knew I had a sense of humour!
I just tried this recipe, seems so simple! When I added the sugar syrup to the egg whites, the mixture became sort of lumpy. Almost like the egg whites cooked a little bit. I think that my syrup might have been too hot as I had the same problem as Carol above, where my syrup started coloring around the edges of the saucepan. Is it possible that i just added the syrup to the egg whites too fast and cooked them, or was the syrup just too hot? Any thoughts?
I’m really struggling with the meringues lately, I usually always make Swiss meringue, but my two most recent attempts also failed miserably (why I tried the Italian meringue in the first place!). When I made the Swiss meringue, everything seemed perfect, piped it onto cupcakes and scorched it a little bit with a creme brulee torch like I always do, but then a few hours later the meringue became soft and runny, and was slowly running down the sides of the cupcakes. Do you have any idea why this would happen?
The Tough Cookie says
Hi Lize, you must be so frustrated by now! I think you’re right about the syrup probably having been too hot. If the syrup is too hot, it cooks the egg whites even if you add it really slowly. Did you use a sugar thermometer when you made the syrup?
As far as the Swiss meringue goes, it sounds like the air you trapped it the meringue somehow escaped, causing it to become runny. You can try adding a few drops of lemon juice next time, as the juice strengthens the foam. Hope this helps! Don’t give up 😉
Thank you so much for this simple and perfect meringue!! Just like I remember eating as a child. I just topped a gorgeous freshly roasted pumpkin pie.
I can’t wait to make more meringues now that I have the tools.
Instead of pouring in my hot syrup I quickly ladled in the mixture. Less mess for me and it might help with the too hot issue some bakers are having. Just a thought.
The Tough Cookie says
I’m so glad you like the recipe Jude! And I think your ladle-trick is a great idea 🙂