How To Make French Meringue

How To Make French Meringue

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Tessa Huff
Dec 11, 2015
(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

So simple and pure, meringue makes for the lightest, almost cloud-like cookies and pastries. With a crisp outer shell, slightly chewy center, and a subtle sweetness, baked meringue is a melt-in-your-mouth delight. It's also extremely versatile — after mastering the basics of how to whip meringue, you'll be making these underrated cookies for almost any occasion.

(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

An Argument for Meringue

Sure, meringue might not be as popular as the almighty chocolate chip cookie or as drool-worthy as a chewy chocolate brownie, but I'll bet you can't eat just one meringue cookie.

Meringue is the heavenly, airy alternative to all those other heavy, sugary, buttery cookies; it's guaranteed to brighten your day after that first crisp bite. Toss in some ground spices, add a swirl of food coloring, or sprinkle some shaved almonds over top — you can transform plain meringue into a dainty, whimsical treat that's a total crowd-pleaser.

(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

What Makes a Meringue

Made from just sugar and egg whites (and a few other optional ingredients for flavoring), turning meringue into delicate cookies is quite simple. First you whip the egg whites until frothy, then start whipping in the sugar. Keep whipping until the meringue holds tall, sturdy peaks when you lift the whisk out of the bowl. After that, all you have to do is bake the meringue low and slow until totally crisp.

Since there are so few ingredients and instructions, it is important to follow everything closely. Let's take a closer look at some tips and tricks for whipping up a proper meringue, as well as some things to avoid.

Tips for Whipping Egg Whites

For maximum volume, it is important to keep your egg whites and all of your equipment as free from fat as possible. This means no grease in your mixing bowl and no drips of egg yolk in the whites. Try using glass, stainless steel, or copper mixing bowls; avoid plastic bowls since they can be porous and hold grease. In addition to being free from grease, make sure the mixing bowl and whisk are both dry.

What should you do if a bit of yolk ends up in your whites? Try to fish the yolk out as best as possible. A tiny drip of yolk probably won't keep your whites from whipping, but it may take longer to do so. Break a whole yolk in your whites? You are probably best off starting over.

Room-temperature eggs whip up better than cold ones. After separating the egg whites from the yolks, let them rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before whipping.

To make sure the sugar dissolves completely, add it in very gradually. You will want to avoid dumping in a large amount at one time. In the end, the meringue should be silky and not at all grainy (which would mean you still have undissolved sugar). Rub a little between your fingers — it should feel totally smooth and creamy.

To help stabilize the meringue, mix in a bit of cream of tartar. It might not increase the volume of the meringue, but it will help keep it from breaking down to0 quickly.

(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

What to Avoid When Making Meringue

As mentioned, make sure no fat comes into contact with your egg whites, either in the form of egg yolk or residual grease. Although difficult to do, try not to over-whip the egg whites. Once they reach stiff peaks, stop the mixer; the meringue should be glossy.

To avoid cracks and unnecessary browning in your baked meringues, be sure that your oven is fully warmed, but not actually too hot before baking the meringue — it's best to use an oven thermometer to check the temperature.

If possible, also try to avoid baking meringues on humid or rainy days. If so, you may need to increase the baking time and let them completely dry out before using or storing.

(Image credit: Tessa Huff)
(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

Piping Meringue into Shapes and Sizes

Meringue can simply be scooped out onto a baking sheet with a soup spoon or a cookie scoop to make rustic, billowy cookies, or you can pipe it for neater, more uniform cookies. Try using a plain or star tip to pipe out meringue "kisses." For rosettes, pipe the meringue in a tight coil.

This same meringue can also be used to make pavlova. Draw a ring on a piece of parchment paper and use a large spoon to scoop the meringue into a round shape on the baking sheet. Use the back of the spoon to hollow out the center to create a large "bowl" of meringue. To make a finished pavlova, fill the baked meringue bowl with pastry or whipped cream and fresh fruit! To make individual pavlovas, pipe out mini meringue "nests."

Read more about pavlova!

How To Make a Light, Airy Pavlova

(Image credit: Tessa Huff)

Switching up Meringue Flavors and Toppings

An assortment of flavor extracts and toppings can easily change up a basic meringue recipe. Use pure extract like rose, peppermint, or hazelnut, or replace the vanilla extract with the seeds of whole vanilla beans. Sift cocoa powder or cinnamon into finished meringue, or fold in ground pistachios, chopped chocolate, freeze-dried fruit, or coconut flakes before baking. To color meringue, use gel food coloring.

Be sure not to go overboard with the extra flavorings — especially liquids. Meringue are meant to be light, simple treats, and too much of any additional ingredient may break down the meringue before it bakes.

ingredients for meringue

How To Make Meringue

Makes about 4-dozen 2-inch cookies

What You Need

Ingredients
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Pinch salt (optional)

Equipment
Clean mixing bowl
Whisk or electric mixer
Baking sheet pan
Parchment paper
Piping bag
Piping tip
Rubber spatula

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 215°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Begin whisking the egg whites with the whisk attachment on medium low. Place the egg whites in the mixer bowl and begin whisking. Be sure that the mixing bowl and whisk are free from grease and that the egg whites do not have any bits of egg yolks in them.
  3. Add in the cream of tartar, vanilla, and salt, if using.
  4. Increase speed to medium and start adding sugar. After the whites begin to foam, bump up the mixer to medium speed and gradually start adding in the sugar. As the eggs whites are whisked, air is incorporated. Little air bubbles will start to form and the egg whites will foam. They will still be too liquidy to hold any shape. Once they begin to foam, begin adding in the sugar, a little bit at a time.
  5. Watch for the "soft plop" stage. The foam and air bubbles will start to tighten and the whites will become opaque. The "soft plop" stage describes eggs whites that hold onto the whisk but do not form peaks.
  6. Add the remaining sugar as the whites turn into "soft peaks." Continue adding in the sugar until the whites begin to form soft peaks. Here, the whites will begin to hold their shape, but will eventually slump over and melt back into the bowl.
  7. Increase the speed to medium-high. After the whites begin to hold their shape, bump up the mixer to medium-high until they hold firm peaks.
  8. Watch for the "firm peaks" stage. Firm peaks are achieved when whites hold their shape. If you pull the whisk straight out of the bowl, a peak will form. At this stage, the tip of the peak will fold back over onto itself.
  9. Add gel food coloring or additional flavors, if using. Mix in a tiny bit of gel food coloring or other extracts until the whites hold stiff peaks.
  10. Watch for the "stiff peaks" stage. The stiff peaks stage is what we are trying to achieve. At this point, the peaks should stand up nice and straight. The whites will be glossy and smooth. If you rub a bit between your fingertips, it should feel silky (meaning the sugar has completely dissolved.)
  11. Fold in any other ingredients, if using. Gently fold in chopped nuts, chocolate, etc. with a large rubber spatula.
  12. Fill the piping bag with meringue. Fit a piping bag with a plain or star tip. Unfold the top of the piping bag about halfway, then use a rubber spatula to fill the bag with the meringue. Fill the bag only 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full to prevent the meringue from spilling out the top of the bag.
  13. Pipe out the meringue. Gently squeeze the piping bag to push out any air pockets before getting started. Pipe meringue kisses by holding the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet. Hover the top slightly over the sheet and pipe a "kiss" of meringue: pipe the meringue, stop pressing the bag, then pull up on the bag. (Alternatively, you can use a soup spoon to scoop large, rustic meringues.)
  14. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes. Depending on the size of your meringue, bake for about 60 minutes, or until the outside is crisp and the inside is dry yet chewy. They should feel light and hollow. When done, the meringue should easily peel off the parchment paper. Turn the oven off, crack the door open, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven.

Recipe Notes

  • Storage: Baked meringue may be stored in a covered container at room temperature for a few days. Do not refrigerate.
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