They say when life hands you lemons, you make lemonades.
But what about when a friend gives you two litres of egg whites?
I say we make us some meringues!
Last Friday, we took on an epic croquembouche project at Asha’s. Three hundred and sixty two choux buns, two pots of molten caramel, a massive tub of ganache, and an even larger one of crème pâtissière made with the yolks from sixty eggs. It was just past 1 o'clock Saturday morning when we finally secured the last cream-filled choux in place. Asha then suggested we ended our feat with Nike and me each taking a shot of Southern Comfort. I woke up regretting that shot very much but at the time, it seemed like a good idea...
The croquembouche seemed incredibly sturdy, which then just tempted the child inside all of us to punch it. So punch it we did! We also poked and prodded it to death but the croquembouche was unwavering. Until at about 5:45am that same morning Asha’s mum reported that it had collapsed, and all the king’s men and all the king’s horses could not put ‘the bouche’ back together again.
All that’s left now are the egg whites. Two litres sound like a crazy amount, but they freeze incredibly well and as you probably know by now, I love making anything meringue based so I was more than happy to take them home. Asha packed the egg whites into two separate bottles. I have one sitting snug in the freezer, and the other in the fridge that I can use anytime to whip up some buttercream or for macarons. Happy days!
There are three types of meringue, each differentiated by the technique in which it is made.
This, the most common and simplistic method is made by whisking raw egg whites and sugar together. Whipped egg whites can collapse and the addition of sugar stabilises the mixture. How much to add depends on what the meringue will be used for or in. But how soon you add it to the egg whites can also affect the foaming process.
The soonest you should add sugar to whisked whites will rest on on how firm you need the end product to be. For example, if you need to take it to medium peak for mousses, add the sugar when the egg whites have reached soft peaks. And for firm meringues start incorporating sugar when you have medium peaks.
One of the chefs at Le Cordon Bleu constantly reminds us that the key to great pâtisserie is in the dissolution of sugar crystals. Whenever you hear the words ‘add gradually’, it should mean to ensure that the first addition is fully incorporated into the mixture before proceeding with the next addition. In this instance, each addition of sugar should be dissolved in the egg whites before you add the next spoonful of sugar. To test, rub a little mixture between your thumb and index finger; the meringue should be smooth and not grainy.
This meringue is commonly used for macarons and used for separated egg sponge mixtures. You can also bake piped shapes on their own but they do colour under the heat of the oven resulting in a less appealing brownish matte finish. Another quick tip is to fold French meringue into chocolate ganache to make a quick mousse. Just remember that the egg whites are uncooked and therefore is not suitable for small children, pregnant women, or those with a weakened immune system.
This is a cooked meringue because you add molten sugar to whisked egg whites.
To achieve the right amount of stability in the egg whites, sugar syrup (sugar and some water) is cooked in a heavy based milk pan to a ‘soft ball’ sugar stage. The temperature ranges from 116˚C (softer ‘soft ball’) to 122˚C (stronger ‘soft ball’).
It’s a process that takes some time and tender loving care. It also requires a good degree of organisation so you are ready when the sugar and whites are ready to be combined.
When the sugar thermometer registers between 110˚C and 112˚C, I start whisking the egg whites on high until it reaches medium peak. If I need to wait for the sugar to reach the right temperature, I would reduce the speed down to a lower setting but never turning off the mixer as the egg whites will start deflating.
Because my KA mixer is right next to the hob, I take the sugar right up to 118˚C or 119˚C, and immediately pour it down the side of the bowl in a slow but steady stream (whilst the mixer is on the lowest setting).
When you take sugar off the heat, try not to delay adding it to the egg whites as the temperature can swing either way. If the sugar cools below 116˚C it becomes too soft to hold the meringue together and will deflate quickly when the whisking stops. On the flip side, once sugar hits 119˚C there such great amount of residual heat in the pan and sugar itself that it will carry on cooking taking the sugar over the ‘soft ball’ stage.
Once you have added all of the sugar syrup, turn the mixer on high and continue to whisk until the base of the bowl has cooled down to room temperature when you touch it. Stop the mixer, and lift the whisk to check the texture of your meringue is a firm peak.
Italian meringue is perfect for making macarons and buttercream. Yum!
It is quicker to make than the Italian meringue but produces the same luscious, glossy, fluffy results.
You’ll need a pan with simmering water and a bowl to sit atop the pan. If the bottom of your bowl touches the water in your pan, just place some kitchen paper directly into the water. The reason why your bowl should not touch the simmering water is to avoid direct contact with the heat source. By adding two to three layers of kitchen paper, you are creating a layer of insulation between the bowl and the pan thus protecting the ingredients from direct heat.
To the bowl, add the egg whites and sugar. I give it a good whisk in the beginning to help dissolve the sugar. With a sugar thermometer in place, let the mixture come up to 50˚C. As the egg whites take up most of the sugar, you only need to whisk it occasionally to disperse the heat within the centre and bottom of your mixture to combine it with the cooler egg whites on top.
Keep a kitchen towel or some kitchen paper next to your pan. As soon as the sugar thermometer registers 50˚C, lift the bowl off from the pan and quickly dry the condensation from the bottom of the bowl. Immediately pour the egg whites into your mixer and crank it up to high speed.
Like the Italian meringue, you now need to whisk the egg white mixture until it is completely cooled. This meringue is excellent for buttercream or just meringues in all shapes, shades, size and flavours!
I like working with ratios when developing recipes. This is great for when you need to scale a recipe or want to experiment with substitute ingredients, and it makes memorising recipes easier.
I stick to a 2:1 sugar to egg white ratio for the best result and stability. This works extremely well for stand-alone meringue products like the rose water meringue roses, lemon drops and violet kisses shown in this post. But when I am adding a meringue to another ingredient or component to create something else, I adjust the sugar quantities accordingly.
With buttercream I would use a sugar to egg white ratio that ranges between 1:1 and 2:1 depending on the flavour of the buttercream. In the photos shown in this post, I made a vanilla and tonka bean cake that is then frosted with a lemon curd buttercream. Because the lemon curd was very tart, I kept the sugar to egg white ratio at a 2:1. If it had been a white chocolate frosting I would probably use a 1:1 ratio thereby cutting the sugar content in half to balance out the flavours.
Why I love meringues
This is by far the longest post I have ever written, and also the one that has taken the longest time. And that’s after I have taken out the parts on ‘the sciences of egg whites’. But it is because I am so passionate about meringues! To me, it is a product that opens doors to a whole world of colourful and flavourful possibilities. As a pastry chef-in-training I am constantly curious, learning and experimenting. And because eggs are an integral part of pâtisserie, there is an endless list of amazing recipes you can make that needs the humble meringue.
I’ll sign off for now with just a short note below about storing leftover egg whites, but in my next few posts I hope to share with you more recipes that will include the use a French, Italian or Swiss meringue.
Bye for now!
If you find yourself with a huge amount of leftover egg whites (freshly bought and separated), they should keep in the fridge for up to a week (granted they are within the expiry dates).
Store egg whites preferably in an air-tight container; wipe the container with a slice or wedge of lemon then dry off with some kitchen paper. Alternatively if you are using a bottle, pour in a little lemon juice and give it a little shake, drain off the lemon juice before leaving to dry. Then transfer the egg whites using utensils you use have cleaned with some lemon juice and dried to remove any traces of grease.
To use frozen egg whites, transfer them from your freezer to fridge to stand overnight until completely defrosted.