If there is anything that seems to strike fear in the hearts of even the more confident bakers, it’s beating egg whites. And while I’ll admit that there is a definite degree of error that can occur, once you know the secrets you will never have a “meringue-fail” again – I promise!
I’m breaking down the basics for making fool-proof meringues, and sharing some recipes that you will surely want to try. These are great for anyone on a gluten-free diet, and as egg whites are naturally fat free you can create some “almost” guilt-free desserts to help keep those New Year’s resolutions!
Let’s get started!
Sweet, Crispy Meringues! 1 of 13
Whether you pipe them into edible "cups," bake them into cookies or create little cream-filled kisses, meringues are sweet, crispy treats your guests are sure to swoon over!
Get Those Whites Ready 2 of 13
The two most important rules to remember when working with egg whites are: a) start with room temperature whites, and b) do not let even a drop of yolk get into the whites. This will ensure that your whites beat up properly.
Start by separating the eggs while cold, as the yolk is much more likely to stay intact.
The Easiest Way to Separate an Egg! 3 of 13
The easiest way to separate eggs? Use the shells!
Working over a small bowl, pour the yolk gently (so that it stays intact) from one shell to the other. Let the whites drip down into the bowl, and go back and forth till just the yolk remains. Now let the whites sit till they reach room temperature.
Start on a Low Speed 4 of 13
Once the whites are at room temperature, you're ready to begin. Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, start out on a low speed and patiently wait for the surface of the whites to be covered in uniform, tiny bubbles. You'll end up with a nice strong base that won't deflate when you add your sugar and raise the mixer speed.
You'll know when the whites are thoroughly mixed when the "hole" in the center of the mixer (where the whisk attachment is) is no longer visible.
Tiny Bubbles = Perfect Meringues! 5 of 13
This is what you want to see when the whites are thoroughly mixed - small, evenly sized bubbles covering the entire surface. This can only be achieved at a low speed. High speeds create large, unstable bubbles that weaken the whites' structure, causing them to collapse when you fold in your remaining ingredients (in this case, the powdered sugar.) You can now safely raise the mixer speed and add your ingredients.
"Soft" Peak vs. "Stiff" Peak 6 of 13
How do you know when the whites have reached the "soft" peak and "stiff" peak stages?
The photo on the left shows the soft peak stage - no visible tracks remain once the beater is lifted, and while there is a tip, it will tend to "droop." When the egg whites have reached the stiff peak stage, the beater will make deep tracks while the mixer is running, and the tracks will remain when the whisk attachment is lifted. The whites will also hold a tip, as the photo on the right shows.
Piping Bags and Pastry Tips 7 of 13
While the whites are beating I like to set up my pastry bags so they're ready to go. I've used a variety of tips here - choose the one you like best. I love these disposable bags and always make a nice big "collar" at the top, so that none of the meringue oozes out while I'm piping. Place the bag in a large drinking glass to keep it stable for easy filling.
Vacherins 8 of 13
First up? Vacherins. A vacherin is a French dessert consisting of a meringue shell or crust, filled with whipped cream and fruit. I like to make little "cups," which I then fill with lightly whipped cream, sorbet or ice cream.
Make Your Template 9 of 13
To form the shells, draw circles on a sheet of parchment paper, and flip the paper over onto a baking sheet. Fit a pastry bag with a tip that has a small plain opening (I used an Ateco #4) and fill with your meringue.
Pipe Your Circles 10 of 13
Using your circle as a guide and starting in the center, pipe a spiral to fill it in completely. Pipe a circle around the base to form a rim. Repeat, piping 2 more circles on top of the first, to form a cup. Repeat this with the remaining circles.
And here's another key rule: Let the meringue cups sit for 30 minutes, till set, and pre-heat your oven to 200. Bake for 3 hours, without opening the oven door. Turn off the oven and let meringues sit in the closed oven overnight.
Ready to Fill and Serve! 11 of 13
How pretty are these? The cups can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week. Fill just before serving.
Make Meringue Cookies! 12 of 13
You can also pipe the meringue into any shape you desire, for a crispy, sweet cookie! Simply choose the tip that you like (I used an Ateco #2 fluted tip for the stars and an Ateco #7 plain tip for the kisses) and pipe shapes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Again, let the cookies sit for 30 minutes prior to baking - they should stay intact when lightly touched.
Bake in a pre-heated 200 degree oven for 1-2 hours, or till dry and crisp. Transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in a single layer in an air-tight container for up to a week.
Meringue "Kisses" 13 of 13
My favorite way to eat meringues? These little whipped cream-filled "kisses." Using a pastry tip, a small spoon or angled spatula, spread half of the kisses with a little whipped cream and make a sandwich with the remaining halves. These can be made a few hours in advance and kept refrigerated (they will lose their crispness and begin to soften after that.)
Basic Meringue Recipe
adapted from Rose’s Christmas Cookies
1/2 c. + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 c. powdered sugar
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Note: if making vacherins, begin at least a day before serving.
In a food processor, grind the granulated sugar for several minutes, till very fine set aside.
In a mixing bowl beat egg whites on low speed till frothy and completely covered in tiny bubbles. Add cream of tartar and increase speed to medium, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the processed sugar. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, add another tablespoon of the sugar and increase speed to high. When stiff peaks form add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Fold in the powdered sugar.
Pre-heat oven to 200 place racks on upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
For vacherins: Use a cookie cutter or drinking glass to trace (4) 3 1/4-3 1/2³ circles on each sheet of paper. Turn parchment over so that the marked sides are face down. Scoop meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (I used an Ateco #4 tip) and, starting in the center of 1 circle, pipe a spiral to fill it in completely. Pipe a circle around the base to form a rim. Repeat, piping 2 more circles on top of the first, to form a cup. Repeat this with the remaining circles. Let the cups sit for 30 minutes, till set they should stay intact when lightly touched. Bake for 3 hours (do not open oven door). Turn off oven and let meringues sit in the closed oven overnight. Remove from oven and store, airtight in a single layer, for up to 1 week. Fill just before serving.
For stars and “kisses:” Scoop meringue into a pastry bag fitted with your choice of pastry tip (I used an Ateco #2 fluted tip for the stars and a #7 plain tip for the kisses). Pipe shapes as desired; let sit for 30 minutes. Bake until dry and crisp (2 hours for the stars, 1 hour for the kisses). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
If making sandwiches with the kisses, fill a pastry bag fitted with a metal tip (I used an Ateco #2 fluted tip) with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Pipe a dollop of cream on the flat sides of half of the cookies. Use the other halves to make sandwiches. Can be made 3-4 hours in advance and kept refrigerated till you’re ready to serve.