Meringue 101: All of the Magic, None of the Mistakes
Any decent baker needs a go-to meringue recipe. Meringue is the base for everything from cloud-like buttercreams to melt-in-your-mouth cookies. You’ll find it on top of pies and between the layers of cakes. You can even explore the world of desserts Down Under with an irresistible pavlova.
There are many different ways to succeed with homemade meringue and many pitfalls to avoid. Learn all about the ins and outs of this dessert component, and discover our favorite Italian meringue recipe that is as versatile as it is delicious.
The Meringue Trinity
There are three types of meringue. The main differences have to do with when you add the sugar and introduce heat.
The French meringue is uncooked — although it is often incorporated into recipes that are then baked. As the simplest of the three, the French meringue is the lightest and most fragile. If left alone, it will gradually weep and deflate.
To make a French meringue, you begin by beating egg whites then slowly add in powdered sugar and continue to beat until they form stiff peaks.
Desserts made with French meringue include:
- Baked meringue cookies
Swiss meringues are firmer and denser than the others, making it the go-to for buttercream frostings.
When making a Swiss meringue, you combine both egg whites and sugar at the same time over heat. When the sugar is completely dissolved, the mixture is pulled off the heat and then beaten into stiff peaks.
Desserts made from Swiss meringue:
- Meringue-topped desserts
- Swiss buttercream frosting
Italian meringues are the smoothest and most stable of the three. With a consistency between the lighter French and the denser Swiss, this meringue is also the most versatile.
In an Italian meringue, a 240 degree sugar syrup is poured over foamy egg whites that have been whisked prior. The mixture is continuously whisked as the sugar is added until it reaches stiff peaks and cools.
Desserts made with Italian meringue include:
- Meringue-topped desserts
- Italian buttercream frosting
- Baked Alaska
- Baked meringue cookies
Tips and Tricks
Give yourself the best chance for homemade meringue success with these simple tips:
Use fresh egg whites. Freshly cracked eggs will create a stronger, more stable foam. Avoid eggs on the verge of spoiling or cartons of liquid egg whites.
Keep tools clean and dry. Fats, water, or dirt may compromise the meringue and prevent it from achieving the fluffy heights you desire. Avoid plastic bowls, which can retain traces of oil.
Separate your eggs carefully. Enough yolk will also prevent the egg white proteins from binding together in the way you need. Yolks are a fat, which kills a good meringue.
Heat your sugar to the right temperature. Undercooked sugar will make an Italian meringue weep. If you’re eyeballing it, it helps to have a glass of cold water nearby. Make sure that the sugar forms a soft ball when dropped into the water. However, using a candy thermometer is a much more reliable way to get consistently good results.
Meringue Mishaps and Ways to Fix Them
Meringues can be finicky, but don’t despair if things go wrong. You can often reclaim the batch.
Problem: Your egg whites refuse to stiffen.
Maybe your mixer isn’t cutting it, or maybe it’s a rainy day — humidity is the enemy of good meringue. For whatever reason, your egg whites refuse to peak up.
Solution: Add just a pinch of cream of tartar or salt. These ingredients help egg whites bind together.
Problem: Your meringue is spongy.
Meringue should be glossy and smooth. If your meringue is spongy rather than silky, you probably haven’t whipped it until it’s cooled.
Solution: Re-whip your meringue. Use your electric mixer to whip the meringue again until it reaches the desired texture.
Problem: Your baked meringue is chewy.
You’ve done everything right, but the texture is all wrong. A baked meringue should have a chewy center and a crisp exterior.
Solution: Leave meringues to cool in the oven. After turning the oven off, you can leave meringue cookies inside to finish drying out. Crack the oven door if you’re worried the heat will be too high. You can also use the oven to re-crisp soggy or stale meringues. Put them in at a low temperature for ten minutes.
The Perfect Italian Meringue
Ready to tackle your own meringue project? Our Italian meringue goes well with a wide range of desserts, but our personal favorite is on French tarts. Or you can even dig right into the bowl — we won’t judge.
1 ⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup water
4 egg whites, reserved (room temp)
Candy thermometer ( included in kit)
- Slide and adjust the candy thermometer to fit a small saucepan, ensuring the tip isn’t touching the bottom. Add sugar and water and place on stovetop over high heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk egg whites on low speed with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer.
- On the stovetop, the sugar and water should be boiling. Be patient and wait until the mixture reaches 245˚ F - 250˚ F on the candy thermometer.
- At this point, the egg whites should look like a thick foamy bubble bath. While still mixing, slowly begin to spoon the hot sugar syrup into the bowl 1 tablespoon at a time. Whisk on high speed for a full 6-8 minutes until the mixture cools and reaches a consistency of old-fashioned shaving cream.
This meringue is glossy and delicious exactly the way it is and can be piped directly onto the tarts (though we recommend practicing on a spare plate first). You can blowtorch or broil the meringue to add toasted flavor and color.
Want more of a crisp, hard meringue? Pipe onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 200˚ F for 1 hour or until hardened. Turn off the heat and let cool in the oven for an additional hour. For even baking, be sure your meringues are similar in size.
Now get cooking! Comment below with your own meringue tips and trials. Share your success or ask for advice. Either way, we’re listening.