Monday, 12 September 2011

All about MERINGUE!

What is light AND fluffy and adds a touch of sweetness to many sweet baked goods: Meringue! What is it? It is whipped egg whites with some white sugar and/or a binding agent such as cornstarch or cream of tarter. You can find meringue in many dessert preperations, such as on top of lemon meringue pie, the base for pavlova, and being torched for baked alaska.

The science behind the light whipped egg whites: When you are whipping egg whites, you are "breaking" some of the hydrogen bonds in the protein. Thus, a "sitff" consistency. Since both sugar and egg whites are classified as hygroscopic, meringue becomes soggy if it is refigerated or in a high-humid enviroment.

There are three basic types of meringue:
1) French: The most common! Basically it is egg whites with white sugar. Note: ALWAYS use real white sugar, never a sugar substitute.
2) Italian: Boiled sugar syrup (water and white sugar cooked together until syrup-like) plus egg whites. This results in a soft meringue, often a base for buttercream. When making Italian meringue, slowly pour the warm syrup in whipping egg whites. This part may be "tricky" to master and you may get "splatters" of hot syrup on your careful!
3) Swiss: Egg whites and sugar whipped over a "bain-marie" (aka: water bath).
-So, how do you what type of meringue to use for what recipe? Follow the recipe. Each meringue type will result in slightly different visual results. French meringue is the most common for household cooks/bakers.

-Avoid using platic bowls/utensils. I like using a stainless steel bowl and whisk.
-Make sure your equipment is CLEAN! Any random particals can result in a "un-whipped" meringue. Basically, if the egg whites gets cross-contaminated, the whites will never fully "whip" and become a soggy mess.
-Add a touch (1 tsp) of cream of tarter to your egg whites will help stablizie the meringue. This helps in the summer time (warm heat!) or if the meringue is going to be chilled (like for lemon meringue pie).
-Room temp egg whites beat better than cold egg whites. You can do this two ways: 1) Bring the egg whites out to room temp 1 hr prior. Or 2) Whip the egg whites over a bain-marie until warm.
-Use fresh egg whites!
-Using a kitchen standing mixer is OK! Just make sure it is nice and clean!
-When you are whipping the egg whites, first whip the egg whites until frothy, then slowly add the white sugar until glossy. I like to add the sugar, 1/8 cup at a time.

Types of "peaks:"
When you whip the egg whites, you whip them to the specific "peak" size.
1)Soft: Barely holds a peak. Slighly glossy. The mixture still seems "wet."
2) Medium: Holds a "normal peak." The mixture will hold, but "not for long."
3) Stiff: Holds peak very well. The mixture seems stable and very glossy.

Meringue is delicious! Not only is it light calorie, making it a great option for healthy eaters, it is easy to master once you have knowledge about meringue technqiues. What to do with yolks? You can make chocolate mousse, ceasar dressing, lemon curd, thicken your hollandaise sauce, etc. The list goes on!

Happy Baking!

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