It seems a lot of people are frightened of making meringues – don’t be! They’re actually not that difficult to make and a good fresh meringue is a thing of wonder. Bonus point, other people are always ridiculously and unnecessarily impressed by them 😉
Here’s a quick meringue 101 for you:
Strictly speaking, a true meringue contains only sugar and egg white, and is not so much cooked as dried out in the oven. It should be a light, crispy, sugary kiss that dissolves on the tongue then vanishes.
Meringues can have a softer centre, depending on time/temperature of baking/drying (moisture retention = softer centre), but they won’t be chewy.
Chewy meringues, or pavlovas, have cornflour and vinegar added, which helps create that chewy centre.
Pavlovas tend to have a slightly higher cooking temperature but shorter baking time.
This recipe is therefore really for a pavlova – a confectionery cloud that melts sweetly and gently on the tongue, to be followed by a chewy caramelised centre of sticky goodness…my idea of meringue perfection.
The cardinal rules of meringue making are:
1. Make sure all your equipment is completely grease free.
Tip: Give everything (bowls and whisk) a precautionary wash in extra hot water and detergent then wipe round your mixing bowl with a cut lemon.
2. Make sure no yolk gets into the egg whites.
Tip: When separating multiple eggs, don’t risk losing a whole batch to a late coming errant yolk. Use a three bowl method and work with one egg at a time: separate the egg, catching the white in the first bowl and dumping the yolk in the second. Once the yolk is safely out of the way, tip the white into your mixing bowl (the third bowl). Repeat the process until you have enough whites. Using this method you only ever risk losing one egg at a time!
3. Make sure your egg whites are stiff enough before starting to add the sugar.
Tip: If your beaten whites sort of ‘split’ from the whisk, it’s not quite stiff enough. It’s nearly there though…just a minute or so more…
4. Add the sugar slowly.
Tip: Have some sing along music playing so you can get into a good groove to keep yourself entertained while you hover at the mixer It’s really important to add that sugar slowly, so be patient and don’t get tempted to chuck the last half in all at once or you’ll end up with grainy, weepy meringues.
If you follow those basics you can’t go far wrong 🙂
4 large egg whites
A small pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
½ to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar (or similar – for this batch I used apple cider vinegar, as it’s all I had in, and they turned out fine)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180ºC/350ºF (yes, really, that high!)
Line baking sheets with baking parchment.
If you want very evenly sized meringues, draw circles onto the reverse of your parchment paper (make sure the pen/pencil side goes underneath ‘cos you don’t want that baked into your meringue bottoms!)
Whisk the egg whites and salt until they’re holding firm peaks but are not too stiff.
Continue beating and start adding the caster sugar, one spoonful at a time, allowing time for each spoonful to be incorporated before adding the next.
When all the sugar has been added you should have a bowl containing a billowy, pillowy, mallowy, satiny cloud. When you rub some between your fingers it shouldn’t feel gritty – if it does, beat a little longer. The more sugar grains you can feel, the more likely it is that your meringues will ‘weep’ (ooze sugar syrup) during baking.
Gently fold in the cornflour, vanilla and vinegar.
Use a tiny dab of meringue to secure down the corners of your baking parchment, then pipe or spoon meringue into required shapes.
Put into the preheated oven, immediately turn it down to gas mark 2/150ºC/300ºF, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes: bite size take around 20 mins and more regular sized ones 30 mins.
Turn the oven off but leave the meringues in there for another 30-40 minutes – they should peel easily from the paper when ready. Remove from the oven.
Carefully slide the parchment paper, with the meringues still on it, off the baking sheets and onto wire racks to finish cooling.
When cool, carefully dip in melted chocolate and set on parchment paper until dry.
Also perfect for making chocolate pistachio meringues.