Did you know that there are three types of meringue? They are French, Swiss, and Italian. They are differentiated by how much heat is applied to the egg whites, which in turns creates varying firmness and stability of the meringue.
The French meringue is the most commonly made meringue and the least stable. Egg whites are beaten until soft peaks form, then granulated sugar is slowly added and beaten further until stiff peaks form. This meringue can be spooned onto fruit or mousse, folded into cake batters (i.e. souffles), used in eggnog and also baked. Since the French meringue egg whites are not cooked, you should take precautions by using pasteurized eggs before serving unbaked meringue to the following individuals: elderly, children, or pregnant.
Swiss meringue is more dense and holds its shape longer than French meringue. It uses a double boiler technique to warm the egg whites while beating. The granulated sugar is added to the double boiler at the same time as the egg whites. The mixture is beaten until the sugar is dissolved, about 120-130 degrees F. After that point, remove it from the heat and continue to beat the Swiss meringue until stiff peaks form and the meringue cools. This type of meringue is often used for the base of buttercream frostings.
Italian meringue is the most stable and will hold intricate shaping for quite some time. It made by adding hot syrup (240 degrees F) into the egg whites that have been whipped to the soft peak stage. While the syrup is drizzled into the egg whites the meringue is constantly whipped until stiff, satiny peaks form and the mixture becomes cool.
I made Italian meringue for the first time last week to top my lemon tart. I thought it sounded pretty easy to make, but for some reason my first attempt went awry. Although I was keeping a close eye on the thermometer to determine when the simple syrup reached 240 degrees F, the syrup began to caramelize around 180 degrees. I took it off heat, but continued to brown. I ended up with a pot full of syrup that smelled like burnt marshmallows. I'm thinking my sauce pan was a bit too big for the amount I was cooking. It was challenging to keep the thermometer into the syrup, but not touch the bottom of the pan.
After I tossed out the first batch, I tried again. This time I went from a 2 Qt saucepan to a 2.5 cup saucepan. I didn't watch the thermometer as much as the syrup itself. After the granulated sugar was dissolved and the syrup boiled for about one minute I removed it from the heat and added it to the soft peaked egg whites. Ahh, perfection! This Italian meringue was glossy and firm. It was so awesome to flip the entire bowl of meringue over and have it stay put. I placed the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. It was very easy to pipe and the star design held it's shape. Another bonus of Italian meringue is that it doesn't seep water out like the French meringue. Your dessert will look nice for days. Here's to good food and gladness!
Ingredients for Italian Meringue
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 large egg whites, room temperature
- Pinch of salt and cream of tartar
Directions for Italian Meringue
In a clean medium to large bowl, whisk whites with a mixer on low speed until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar. Increase speed to medium, and whisk until soft peaks form, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring sugar, water, and corn syrup to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook, undisturbed, until syrup registers 240- 248 degrees F on a candy thermometer (about 1-2 minutes).
Pour hot syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream with mixer on low speed. Increase speed to high, and beat until mixture stops steaming, about 3 minutes. Use immediately.