Meringue mishaps

By Shannon Peare

12 May 2020

Something as simple as egg white and sugar can be transformed into so many beautiful desserts. Even though the ingredients may be simple, they can certainly have their problems, and you want to be confident about your meringue-making skills before running the risk of holding the bowl over your head. I’m going to run through all of the possible meringue mishaps; it’ll be eggcellent…

“I’ve got eggs… they’re not multiplying”

The star of any meringue is the egg white! There are many factors that can affect a meringue and eggs can be the main cause of problems.

Separating eggs

When separating eggs, it is essential to not allow any yolk in. You can separate eggs by cracking the egg and rocking the egg yolk between the two shells, allowing the egg white to fall into the bowl bellow. You can also separate eggs by cracking the egg into your hand, slightly separate your fingers and allow the egg white to spill into the bowl bellow while still holding the egg yolk. If any egg yolk gets into the egg white, it will not whip up properly.

Keep it fresh

Fresher eggs work best for meringue. The proteins in fresher eggs are stronger, giving the meringue more stability. Older eggs will still whip up and will give you a greater volume but won’t give you as much structure as fresher eggs. When whipping fresh egg whites, it may take a little longer to break down the proteins but it will be worth it in the end.

Keep it room temp

For almost any baking, room temperature eggs are a must. Egg whites will whip up much faster than colder eggs and they will also give better volume. Eggs from the fridge will not whip as well. The ideal temperature to whip meringues at is 21˚C. If you do store your eggs in the fridge, allow them to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before whipping.

Keep it grease free

Baking can certainly be a greasy mess. When making meringues, your bowl and utensils need to be spotless clean and dry – meringues are very sensitive and do not like grease or moisture! Give your mixing bowl, whisk and any other utensils a good clean with soap and boiling water and make sure to dry them properly. Kitchen tissue is the best for drying.

Foaming on acid

A common aid for meringue is adding an acid, to achieve stable foam. The most common acids are adding vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar. By adding an acid it will result in a crisp exterior and a soft, sticky inside. I don’t believe this is an essential step, but if it’s included in your favourite meringue recipe then do it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Give me some sugar!

Caster sugar is the common go-to when it making meringues, as the small grains of sugar dissolve easily in the foamy mixture. The sugar in meringue recipes should be added gradually after the egg whites have formed soft peaks. By add the sugar too soon it will take twice as long for the meringue to whip up. Add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whipping between each addition. To ensure all the sugar is dissolved into the egg white, take some of the mix and rub it between your two fingers. If the mix feels gritty, then the sugar has not all dissolved, so continue to beat for a few more minutes.

The test

The classic test to see if your meringue is whipped to perfection is to hold the bowl over your head. If you don’t end up with meringue in your hair, then congratulations – you are ready to pipe!

Baking time

Meringues like it low and slow, and should be baked at a lower temperature for a long time. If the oven is too high, the heat will cause the air bubbles to rise too quickly and will result in a cracked meringue. Baking at a higher temperature can also result in a golden brown colour, as the sugar will caramelise and you won’t have a crisp white meringue.

Did you know: Humid days can affect your meringue! It will take longer for them to dry out. If you are making Italian meringue, adding a teaspoon of cornflour to the sugar can help to absorb any extra water.

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