Airy, light and sweet, who can resist meringue in any of its forms? Here, a helpful guide to identifying the difference between the three classic types of meringue – Swiss, Italian and French – along with winning tips on perfecting each of these meringue recipes.
There are different types of meringues that are made in specific ways and have various applications…
Before you start making meringues:
- Make sure the bowl in which you will be beating the egg whites is clean and dry – any residual grease could result in your eggs not whipping to stiff peaks.
- Use eggs at room temperature.
- When beating the eggs, at first, don’t beat too quickly – the challenge in making perfect meringue is neither to under- nor overbeat the eggs. Beat your egg whites slowly to stiff peaks, before gradually incorporating the sugar, a tablespoonful at a time.
- Adding a little cornflour to uncooked meringue results in a soft, chewy centre, characteristic of Pavlova.
- The acid in vinegar or cream of tartar helps to stabilise the egg white, ensuring that the meringue is thick and stiff, holding its shape.
- Baked French meringue can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container for up to a week for best results. Swiss and Italian meringue should be made as and when needed, if being used in their unbaked forms.
French meringues are made by gradually adding either granulated- or castor sugar (granulated will result in a crumbly, more granular meringue, whereas castor sugar will result in a more solid, smooth finish) to whipped, uncooked egg whites until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. The meringue is then piped or dolloped into shapes and baked. It has a light, crisp texture and is the easiest to bake and best-known type of meringue.
- Swiss meringue is made by dissolving sugar and egg whites together over simmering water while beating with an electric mixer. It is often used as a base for buttercream icings.
- Italian meringue is made by slowly beating hot sugar syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites and is used in icings and, often, as a base for French macaroons. The egg whites are ‘cooked’ by the hot sugar syrup, so this method of making meringue is mainly used for applications where a fluffy, marshmallowy result is required – for example, dessert toppings and then brûléeing the meringue, as opposed to baking it in the oven.
Tips for making the perfect meringue:
- Meringues are quite sensitive to the weather – on rainy, humid days, they will absorb moisture from the air and turn soft and sticky very quickly.
- You’ll have more success making meringues when it is dry, otherwise you may have to bake them slightly longer.
- Meringues are always baked in a slow oven at 110°C for 1 – 2 hours – this will ensure a crisp result without them browning too much or too quickly.
- Line your baking sheet with foil. Your meringues are cooked when they are crisp and peel off the foil easily.
Styling and direction by Nomvuselelo Mncube
Photograph by Dylan Swart