I mean, I say ‘need to know’ but let’s just take that statement with a pinch of salt shall we?
Meringues are one of my favourite things. They are so light and fluffy and you can add them to so many desserts for that light yet crunchy addition. They have a reputation (much like macarons) to be a little tricky to make, but if you stick to the rules then you won’t have any baking failures on your hands. So what do you need to know about macarons?
1. The exact date and origin of meringues is unknown.
It is thought that the meringue was invented in Meiringen, Switzerland (hence the name) and improved by Italian chef Gasparini in the 18th century. However, this theory is contested by many. We do know that the first use of the word meringue was used in a cookbook in the 1600s written by Francoi Massialot.
2. It is claimed by many that all equipment MUST be scrupulously clean otherwise meringues will be IMPOSSIBLE to make, but this isn’t strictly true.
It is true that it will take longer for you to reach the smooth stiff peaks required, but not impossible so don’t get too worked up about it. Marcus Wareing suggests rubbing your mixing bowl with half a lemon before cracking your eggs. This will ensure all speckles of fat that may be left on your bowl will be eliminated so that you can reach the stiff peaks of baking stardom quicker.
3. Even if you add the sugar at the beginning of the process, you can still get to stiff peaks and it won’t affect the taste.
Many recipes advise that you should get to a soft peak stage before adding the caster sugar one tablespoon at a time and then head to stiffness. It might take you a little longer to get to the stiff peak stage (and it depends how much sugar the recipe is asking you to add – if half the weight of the eggs or less then this theory works) but I find that the consistency of the mixture if smoother, and tastier when I add the sugar to the egg whites before I even have my hands on the mixer!
4. You don’t cook meringues, you just dry them out…
…to ensure that your meringue stays a lovely glossy white. In simple terms, you are evaporating the water from the mix to leave the egg and sugar mix with air bubbles in between. Put your meringue in the oven at 60c overnight, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
5. The usual sugar choice for meringues is caster sugar.
Avoid granulated at all costs! Using granulated just means that you are going to end up with grainy meringues which isn’t the most appetising. Caster sugar normally works best as the smaller grains dissolve easily in the mixture. Some advise to use half caster sugar and half icing sugar, but I find that this makes the meringues taste a little like sherbet rather than the distinctive crunchy but chewy sugary goodness!
6. Meringues are the base of macarons.
Obvious, no? Well you would think so with the crunchy outside and chewy centre synonymous with macarons. Fold in some ground almonds and you’re good to go.
7. Meringues can sweat.
If you don’t beat in the sugar sufficiently it will cause small droplets of water to appear on the outside once cooked.
8. Meringues don’t contain any fat!
What a bonus! By including fat into meringues, it would cause them to cave in. But let’s remember, they do contain A LOT of sugar…
9. Whipping your egg whites at room temperature works best.
Always ensure you take your eggs out of the fridge to allow them to warm to room temperature before separating and whipping.
10. On humid days, add cream of tartare to your meringue mixture.
Cream of tartare stabilises the meringue by lowering its pH and making it more acidic. Make sure that you add the cream of tartare early on in the whipping, but not before you have started.