When I lived and worked in Orange County California I had an employer who took his staff out to every type of restaurant, eatery bistro, self-service, restaurant, fine dining restaurants, sidewalk cafés and everything in-between. This man knew his food.
Some establishments, like a little Danish scone bakery, dinner theater, Mexican diners (tucked away behind the main drag), Japanese grills, to fine dinners (that took months to get reservations) and swore I would learn how to cook some of these foods. The following is an accumulation of the recipes I have mastered.
The AIRY SNOWDRIFT we call meringue are a remarkably simple combination of egg whites and sugar. There are three basic methods of preparation and uses:
Soft Meringue is the familiar topping for such favorites as lemon meringue pie. It is baked for a short time, and remains very soft in the center.
Swiss Meringue, also known as hard meringue, requires more sugar and consequently more beating than does the soft meringue and is baked–basically dried—at a low temperature for an extended period of time to achieve the crisp texture necessary for meringue cake layers, shells for tarts or vacherin, the oval “eggs” of oeufs a’ la neige, and decorations for fancy desserts.
Italian Meringue, used to frost cakes, lighten the texture of sherbets, or spread atop such desserts as baked Alaska, is made by beating hot sugar syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites.
Although the traditional method of beating egg whites calls for a balloon whisk and copper—lined bowl, the electric mixer performs the same function and is more practical for most cooks. To achieve the greatest volume when beating egg whites with an electric mixer, use stainless steel bowl with a narrow, rounded bottom. Aluminum, plastic, glass or porcelain bowls are not satisfactory—aluminum can cause discoloration, and plastic, glass and porcelain allow beaten whites to slide down the sides and loose volume. Be sure bowl and beaters are absolutely free of grease.
The acidic properties of cream of tartar stabilize the meringue, and salt helps solidify the protein in the egg whites.
Makes about 3 cups
4 egg whites, room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
Beat egg whites in large mixing bowl at low speed until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar. Gradually increase mixer speed to moderately high until egg whites form soft peaks (when beaters are withdrawn, tips of peaks will be floppy). Beat in sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, increase mixer speed to high and beat until sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture holds stiff peaks when beaters are removed. To test for stiffness: Draw the flat side of a spatula through whites, scraping bottom of bowl; path of the spatula should stand upright without sagging.
To bake: Grease a baking sheet with solid vegetable shortening and generously dust with flour; shake off the excess flour. Or line a lightly greased baking sheet with parchment paper.
- For meringue ovals, preheat oven to between 200 deg. and 225 deg. F. Using 2 spoons, shape meringue into mounds of desired size and drop onto prepared sheet. Or use a pastry bag fitted with a #5, #6, or #7 star tip to pipe out rosettes or ladyfingers. Bake 40 to 60 minutes. Allow to dry in oven an hour with door closed. Cool on racks.
- For layers, preheat oven to 200 deg. F. Press rim of an 8-or 9-inch cake pan or a 2—inch cookie cutter into flour on baking sheet to make guide, or trace around edges of pan or cookie cutter on parchment paper with a pencil. Spread meringue ¼ inch thick within edges of circles or use a pastry bag fitted with #5 plain tip to pipe a meringue spiral, starting in center of circle and fill in completely. Bake 1 to 2 hours for large layers or 30 to 60 minutes for small rounds, or until thoroughly dry. Allow to dry in oven and additional hour with door closed. Remove and cool on racks,
Makes enough topping for 1 9-inch pie
3 egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Beat ingredients according to instructions for Swiss Meringue. Spread over any pie calling for a meringue topping and seal completely to inside edges of pie crust to prevent meringue from shrinking. Bake in upper third of oven 15 minutes. Cool in draft-free area.
Makes about 3 cups
3 egg whites
Pinch of salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
Beat egg whites according to instructions for Swiss Meringue.
Combine sugar and water in saucepan. Without stirring, swirl pan gently over high heat until sugar has dissolved and liquid is completely clear. Cover pan and boil rapidly (this enables condensed steam to wash down sides of pan, preventing formation of sugar crystals). After 1 or 2 minutes, uncover pan. When bubbles begin to thicken boil rapidly to soft-ball stage (238 deg. F on candy thermometer). Add syrup to stiffly beaten egg whites in a thin steady stream, beating constantly on moderately low speed. When all syrup has been added, continue beating 5 minutes on high speed until mixture is cool. Meringue should be satin-smooth and hold stiff peaks.
- To keep Swiss Meringue from darkening during baking, use solid vegetable shortening for greasing the baking sheet—it can withstand a lengthy baking period without discoloring.
- Separate eggs directly from the refrigerator; they will break cleanly and the yolk of a cold egg is less likely to shatter than one at room temperature.
- It is critical that no egg yolk find its way into the whites, as even a trace of yoke will prevent beaten whites from reaching full volume.
- Egg whites that have been refrigerated for up to 2 weeks produce a better meringue than do fresh ones.
- You can make your own superfine sugar by whirling granulated sugar in the blender or food processor.