Yay! I did it! I finished my post on French meringue! Finally… I was a bit worried I was never gonna get it done. Not that writing about French meringue is hard or anything, it’s just that… well, um… Wait, let’s not bore you with the predicament-that-is-my-thesis again.
It’s getting kinda old…
Let’s just focus on the French meringue! This is actually the last post of my series: ‘The Different Kinds of Meringue‘ (and yes, I’m still proud of that title). In the past, I’ve dedicated series to buttercream, dulce de leche, caramelized white chocolate and pie crusts. I really enjoy doing series, can you tell? They are the perfect way to nourish my inner nerd without diving head first into a full-on panic attack, which is what happens to me when I attempt to do thesis-related nerdy things these days.
Oh, wait! I’m doing it again! Damn thesis…
Where was I… In case you missed it, the first post of this series was about Swiss Meringue, which is marshmallowy and dreamy. In the second post of the series I discussed Italian meringue, which is light and fluffy. If you haven’t read these first two posts yet, go do it now! Like: now, now, now! There’s important stuff in there. Like how to best freeze leftover yolks…
Read it? Good. On with the French meringue.
French meringue is actually the least stable kind of meringue you can make. Both Swiss meringue and Italian meringue are a lot more stable and can be kept in the fridge for a day or two without collapsing. French meringue, on the other hand, will gradually lose volume and start weeping. Aka: moisture from the egg whites will start leaking out of the meringue. So keep that in mind if you decide to top a cake or pie with this stuff! Swiss meringue makes a much better pie/cake topping.
Having said that, French meringue is also the easiest meringue to master! In fact, most home bakers learn to make this meringue without ever realizing they just learned something huge! For example, I learned to make this meringue when I was making a cake. A fake Sacher Torte, actually. I don’t remember how old I was exactly – probably 13 or 14 – but to make the cake fluffy and light I had to make an egg white foam with sugar (French meringue!) which I then folded into the bulk of the batter to lighten it. Pretty basic, but that’s how I learned! It was only later that I realized I had unknowingly earned another imaginary Tough Cookie badge to pin on my flowered apron…
And guess what? You don’t need any fancy contraptions, such as fake double boilers or sugar thermometers. You’ll only need a bowl and a mixer. Or even a whisk if you don’t have a mixer but are really desperate for meringue… Still, I’d suggest you go with the mixer. Better for your wrists…
Oh, and you’ll need ingredients of course!
First, grab yourself some eggs. For this batch of meringue, I used three eggs, but you can use as much as you like, depending on what you’re planning to do with the meringue. As long as you know how much sugar to use per egg white, you can make the batch as small or as big as your heart desires!
But like I said, start with the eggs. Don’t mind me pointing out the obvious, but you’ll only need the whites, so freeze the yolks. You can make all kinds of yummy things with the yolks later! Just to recap: to freeze yolks, you need to first beat them with either salt or sugar (depending on what you want to use them for later), otherwise they will become gelatinous and useless in the freezer. For specifics on freezing the yolks, such as how much sugar or salt to use per yolk, check out my post on Swiss meringue!
When working with eggs, it’s always important to measure by weight or volume. Why? Well, eggs come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. An ostrich egg may be an egg, it’s not quite the same as a quail egg. Not that I want to encourage you to use either ostrich or quail eggs (use chicken eggs!) but you get the point, right? Eggs come in different sizes. The amount of sugar you use per egg white is very important. And using the wrong size eggs can be disastrous! For example, if you were to use small eggs and combine it with the amount of sugar given in this recipe, odds are the sugar won’t dissolve into the egg whites, simply because there is not enough egg white (or liquid) for the amount of sugar used. On the other hand, if you were to use ginormous godzilla eggs (which would be yucky) and combine them with the amount of sugar given in this recipe, you wouldn’t end up with a well-structured meringue, because you wouldn’t have used enough sugar.
Luckily, you don’t have to be obnoxiously exact about it. Phew… Just know that traditionally, in baking, one egg white is said to weigh 33g (which is 33ml, or just over 2 tablespoons in volume). So keep that in mind when you decide to use baby eggs or those Godzilla eggs, because the egg white to sugar ratio determines the volume, strength and density of the finished meringue.
Anyway, what else do you need to make French meringue? You guessed it: sugar!
You may have noticed this before, and you can see it in the photo: the sugar I use isn’t pristinely white. That’s because it’s mixed with a tiny amount of molasses.
I actually just discovered that, can you believe it? I’ve been using this sugar for months and months and up until a few minutes ago I never realized there’s molasses in it! You see, I usually buy this particular (organic) sugar because the smaller sugar crystals makes it easier to dissolve it into batters and egg whites. But looking at the photos in this post, I figured my trusty readers would probably wonder about my mysterious off-white sugar, so I looked it up, and bam! Molasses! I should have guessed! As it turns out, that tiny amount of molasses really gives the resulting meringue (whether you’re making French, Italian or Swiss) a slight caramel flavor. It’s delicious!
So tip of the day: if you happen to have a jar of molasses in your pantry, use a drop or two (less than ¼ teaspoon) to flavor your meringue! It’s soooo good!
But anyway: sugar. You’ll need it to make meringue. With or without the molasses. The amount of sugar used to make French meringue varies from 33g to 66g (or 8 teaspoons to 16 teaspoons) per egg white. The amount of sugar you use is completely up to you. Just keep in mind that a higher sugar content means that the finished meringue will be denser and less voluminous. On top of that, it will also be harder to overbeat and if you bake the meringue the resulting meringue kisses or cookies will be crisper.
On the other hand, a lower sugar content means that the resulting meringue is lighter, has more volume and is easier to incorporate into batters. But bear in mind that it’s also easier to overbeat!
As I explained in my post on Swiss meringue, meringue is made by beating air into liquid egg whites. The liquid egg whites spread out to form thin bubble walls, trapping the air and thus creating a big mass of bubbles. Egg whites alone are not very stable, and a sugar-less egg white foam will quickly lose volume and start leaking. When sugar is added, the foam 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. In other words, sugar means stability when it comes to meringues.
Or should I say: dissolved sugar means stability?
The sugar can only strengthen the bubble walls if it’s dissolved into the liquid egg whites. Aka: when you’re making a meringue, it’s really important that the sugar properly dissolves into the egg whites.
When you’re make a Swiss meringue, you dissolve the sugar by combining the sugar and egg whites in a bowl and gently heating the mixture over a double boiler. The heat ensures that the sugar dissolves beautifully. When you’re make an Italian meringue, you dissolve the sugar in water and then cook it into a syrup. So no undissolved sugar crystals in that meringue either! Which brings me to the problem of French meringue: the sugar isn’t dissolved first. This can lead to a number of problems, such as a grainy or weepy meringue. So, to end up with a well-structured meringue that won’t start leaking, it is important that the sugar gets a chance to dissolve properly! Now, you can just take your chances with the sugar you have on hand, but it’s really easy to take a few precautions and make sure you end up with a gorgeous meringue.
First of all, get your hands on a fine type of granulated sugar, with small sugar crystals. You can buy fine granulated sugar in most supermarkets, but you can also use a food processor to break your regular granulated sugar down into smaller crystals.
Another thing I like to do when I make French meringue is spreading the sugar onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and heating the sugar in the oven until the edges of the sugar are just beginning to melt. Sure, this means firing up your oven, but I think that it’s totally worth it! It really helps to dissolve the sugar and create a gorgeously glossy, fluffy meringue!
Oh, and don’t be tempted to use powdered or icing sugar. These sugars are usually mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to keep it from caking in the container. You don’t want that in your meringue…
So how do you make French meringue?
Here’s how I do it. I start by heating my already fine sugar in the oven. In the meantime, I add my egg whites to a medium-sized bowl and start beating with the mixer. I use a hand held mixer, because that’s all I have, but you can also use a stand mixer if you have one.
Whip the whites until… they hold soft peaks! You guessed it, didn’t you? Maybe that photo up there had something to do with it? Beating the whites until they hold soft peaks ensures that you end up with a voluminous, light, fluffy meringue. You can also make meringue by dumping the sugar into the bowl with the unbeaten egg whites, but the resulting meringue will be a lot denser and less voluminous, because the sugar weighs the meringue down. This is why Swiss meringue is denser and less voluminous than Italian or French meringue.
So whip those whites to soft peaks before adding the sugar! It should only take a few minutes. In the meantime, keep an eye on the sugar. You don’t want it to caramelize or melt. As soon as the edges of the sugar start to look like they’re melting, remove the sugar from the oven and immediately start adding the hot sugar, one big spoonful at a time, to the meringue, mixing continuously. Mix a little more, for about 7 minutes or so, and tadaa! A gorgeous, glossy French meringue!
Parfait! (Which is French for ‘perfect’).
Oh wait, first rub a bit of the meringue between your fingers to make sure there are no undissolved sugar crystals left. The meringue should not feel gritty. Undissolved sugar crystals promote weeping. So, if the meringue feels grainy, mix a few minutes more. Once the meringue is smooth, it probably holds stiff peaks, which is perfect for piping kisses or nests!
So here it is: French meringue!
I know I’ve already explained a lot in this post, but there are still a few more things you should know about this meringue. First of all, because there are raw eggs in this meringue it’s not safe to serve to little kids under the age of five, the elderly, sick people, or pregnant women, because there’s a small risk of salmonella. If you’re older than five, healthy and not pregnant, go ahead and lick the bowl clean! It’s perfectly safe. Just mind those vulnerable groups. Or, um, people with an irrational fear of raw eggs… Of course you can also choose to make this meringue with pasteurized egg whites and you can always bake it, too. That also makes it safe to be eaten by these vulnerable groups.
Anyway, if you’re not scared of raw eggs and are not planning on serving this meringue to kids, pregnant ladies, old or sick people, this meringue is great for everything! Plop it on cakes, pies or desserts, bake it into little kisses or delicious Chocolate Swirl Meringues (my next post!), use it to lighten mousses or cake batter, poach it to make île flottante or use it to sandwich cookies together! It all works!
Just one thing if you decide to serve or use it ‘raw’ (as a filling or in a mousse or on top of a pie): make sure it’s eaten the day you made it. Remember, this is the least stable kind of meringue. If you’re looking for a meringue you can make days in advance, go with the Swiss or Italian meringue. French meringue will start weeping at some point…
So that’s it! The last post of my meringue series. I really hope you enjoyed the series as much as I did!
Oh, and stay tuned for my recipe for Chocolate Swirl Meringues with a Hint of Cinnamon! They’re so good!
- 100ml (or ⅓ cup + 4 teaspoons) egg whites (about 3 large egg whites)
- 180g (or ¾ cup + 7 teaspoons) granulated sugar
- Start by preheating the oven to 200°C/390°F (standard oven setting) and lining a deep baking sheet with baking parchment. If the sugar you're using is very course, place the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and blitz until fine.
- Pour the sugar onto the lined baking sheet and bake for 3-5 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to melt. Heating the sugar helps to dissolve the sugar into the egg whites.
- While the sugar is in the oven, add the egg whites to a medium-sized bowl. Make sure both the bowl and the mixer's whisk attachments are completely free of any grease.
- Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks.
- By now, the sugar should be ready. Remove from the oven and add the hot sugar to the egg whites, one big spoonful at a time, mixing continuously. Once all the sugar has been added, keep mixing until the meringue holds stiff peaks and you no longer feel sugar crystals when you rub a bit of meringue between your fingers (this should take about 5-8 minutes).
- Use as desired.