I’ve been teaching high school cooking classes lately, and it’s gotten me thinking about basic cooking skills. Specifically, skills that people think are difficult and make a point to stay away from, but are actually super easy.
Number one on this list is meringue. Mostly because I have a ton of egg whites sitting around due to making curds, but hey, it’s as good a starting point as any!
Oh, how I love meringue – it’s dreamy appearance, melt in the mouth texture, and the overall versatility of the medium all combine to make me smile. And a smile is always a good thing, right?
So I decided to share the recipe I use and break it down. Follow along and I bet you’ll fall in love with it too!
First start with egg whites. You want them to be completely free of yolk or the meringue won’t form. Why? Let’s ask my food science background:
When making meringues, the most important part of the egg white is the proteins found in it. Proteins are made of hydrophilic (water loving) and hydrophobic (water fearing) molecules – basically, one attracts water and one repels it. When you start beating air into your egg whites, the hydrophilic molecules jump up and cling to the water present in the egg white (about 90 percent of it!) and the hydrophobic molecules run straight into the waiting arms of the air molecules. This helps form air bubbles and puffs the meringues up. However, if the egg yolk, which contains fat molecules, is included, the fat molecules butt in and stop the bubbles from forming. No bubbles, no meringue.
Add your egg whites to a metal bowl. Don’t use a plastic one, because no matter how well you cleaned it last time you used it, it might still have a couple of fat molecules hanging around. Next, add in cream of tartar or another acid.
Remember those bubbles I was talking about before? Well, as we all know, bubbles eventually pop, which will lead to a deflated and gross meringue. Add an acid, such as cream of tartar, and bam – stable, no pop bubbles.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together at high speed until foamy. It’ll take a while, but be patient. The wait is well worth the reward.
Once your meringue has reached a nice foamy stage, start adding sugar. I recommend going one tablespoon at a time. Keep beating until the mixture is thick, glossy, and forms stiff peaks. To determine if your meringue is ready, give it a stir and lift up the whisk or beater. If the resulting folds in on itself but has a nice pointy tip, it’s ready. Don’t over beat!
The picture below isn’t quite there yet.
This is better:
Once your meringues have reached this stage, transfer (gently!) to a pastry bag. I don’t have a pastry bag, so I use a Ziploc with the corner cut out. If you have a pastry tip, you can use that to make it pretty, but it’s not necessary. Pipe your meringues out onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake. Don’t peek! Turn the oven off after an hour and a half at 275°F, then leave them in for another hour or so. Meringues are sometimes called “forgotten cookies” because they can be left in the oven for a while after finishing.
As it says above, this is a recipe for basic meringues. You can add flavoring (ginger, anyone?), mini chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts – It’s an open canvas! This can also be used as a base for Pavlova, Baked Alaska, Meringue Pies, and Eaton Mess, among many tasty others.
3 Egg Whites
¼ tsp Cream of Tartar
¾ c Sugar
- Preheat oven to 275°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper,
- In a medium bowl, beat together egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until foamy.
- Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time and continue beating until stiff peaks form and the meringue is glossy. Do not under beat.
- Transfer meringue into a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. Pipe out as desired.
- Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off oven and leave door closed 1 hour. Finish cooling outside the oven for 2 hours.