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Making Your Own Meringues

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Meringue is the most obvious pastry to bake when you have too many egg whites, and yet many home chefs are frightened to try homemade meringues. See how easy they are if you go by the book.

With the quantity of ice creams I make, there are always redundant egg whites in my fridge. What to do with them? The most obvious answer is meringue - this delicious, crispy sweet egg white foam. But their reputation for difficulty place meringues outside what most home chefs will try. And yet, if you follow to the letter simple instructions, they just can't fail.

Meringues
1 part by weight egg whites
2 parts by weight sugar
1 lemon
vanilla extract

The secret to a successful meringue is to foam the egg whites real stiff. How do you achieve that? Egg white foam is a miraculous pile of air bubbles trapped in the thinnest egg white membrane. A house of cards, really. There are some forces who see this as against nature and will trill to unravel the foam. For your foam to withstand their attacks, the strictest obedience to some rules is needed.

  1. Only the cleanest of egg whites can foam. The eggs, bowl and utensils must be impeccably clean. This means not a trace of yolk, fat or soap. Not even a scent or your house of cards will never rise. I filter my egg whites in a fine sieve to remove most impurities. Do not use a wooden or plastic bowl as they are hard to clean, nor an aluminium bowl which will react with the eggs. Trying to foam eggs with the slightest trace of fat is like building a house of cards on a windy day.
  2. Add a little acid to the eggs - lemon or cream of tartar, a chemical used by pastry chefs. Or beat the eggs in a copper bowl, but please no acid in a copper bowl or your guests will be headed straight for intensive care if you manage to convince them to touch the greenish meringue acid over copper will invariably produce.
  3. Finally, it really helps to use an electrical or mechanical beater. You'll just break your wrists trying to beat ten egg whites to a stiff foam with a regular whip. Here are FXcuisine.com we use a Kenwood kitchen machine. It certainly works fine, but you can do it with a smaller one too.
  4. Use aged egg whites. Just leave them in the fridge in a bowl covered with foil for a week. Wait until they reach room temperature before foaming them.

If you want to understand why this works, read the invaluable On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen one of the best cookery books there is.

Filter perfectly clean egg whites a few days old and weight the filtered eggs. In a separate bowl, measure double the egg weight in sugar. You can use granulated sugar or half confectioner's sugar and half regular granulated sugar.

Rub the lemon all over a perfectly clean bowl. The lemon will impart a very slight and pleasant lemony flavor to the meringue.

Pour the filtered whites in the bowl and beat to a stiff foam. Only when your foam is stiff and not before, gradually mix in the sugar while continuing to mix. The sugar will draw some of the moisture out and stiffen your foam. Add the vanilla extract if using.

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