In the family of meringues, French meringue would be considered the most basic. Compared to its Swiss and Italian cousins that require you to apply heat before you make your meringue, French meringue is made with a simple addition of granulated sugar. The post here on Meringue describes the science behind French meringue in detail, eight of them to be precise.
French meringue is your go-to method for baked meringues cookies. When the meringue is baked, the sugar holds on to water molecules, allowing the protein structure time to coagulate into a permanent foam before all the water evaporates. This needs to happen slowly, at 200 degrees or lower. In the professional pastry department, I employ a dehydrator set to 180 degrees and leave them for 4 or more hours, depending on their size. At home, I set my oven as low as it can go, which is 200 degrees F. I bake them for 3 hours, turn the oven off, and leave them in there for another hour or two.
Baked meringues can be shaped as simple kisses, or fluted rosettes, piped and baked into individual nibbles. Spread your meringue into large disks, and you can layer meringues with mousses, whipped creams, custards, and fruits for a meringue cake. Little meringue nests can be created with a piping bag, or the back of a spoon, and filled with cream and fruits to make the classic French Vacherin.
French meringue is also used to make macarons, the colorful hamburger like sandwich cookies with entire shops and legions of fans devoted to them. There are those that live and die by using Italian meringue as the macarons base (link to Italian meringue). And there are those that prefer French meringue. Which one is best? That’s something you have to decide for yourself. I just so happen to prefer French meringue, and where most of my success with this fickle cookie has been found.
French meringue is also frequently used when folding meringue into a recipe. You’ll see French meringue used to lighten mousses, aerate cakes, and leaven soufflés, without exception. You’ll also find French meringue included in recipes on a case-by-case basis, if the author is looking for an added lightness. For example, while pancakes don’t require a meringue, I make ricotta pancakes for brunch that soufflé when griddled, all thanks to French meringue.
The recipe provided is written to create a vanilla scented meringue. The ingredients are balanced with the intention of the meringues being baked. As you move forward into your meringue-making career, you’ll notice differing rations when meringue is part of a recipe. So follow the recipe! But remember the details, they will remain the same no matter the ratio.
Since French meringue is responsible for the vast majority of the over all application of the egg-white foam, it is the first one worth mastering. It’s safe to say, when in doubt, make French meringue.
200g egg whites room temperature
5g cream of tartar
250g sugar ultrafine
5g vanilla extract (optional)
- Place the egg white and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Begin whipping on medium speed, 6 on a kitchen aid mixer. Continue whipping until the egg whites are thick, have grown about 8 times their original size, and are forming soft peaks. This could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
- When the egg whites are holding soft peaks, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons, about 25g of sugar. Let the meringue whip for 1 minute, then add another 2 tablespoons/25g of sugar, and again, let the meringue whip for 1 minute. Continue adding the sugar in 2 tablespoon/25g increments, letting the meringue whip for 1 minute between each addition, until all the sugar has been added to the bowl. This should take you over 10 minutes.
- When all the sugar is in the bowl, let the meringue whip for an additional 2 minutes, then check the texture of the meringue to see if it’s holding taut glossy peaks. To do this, remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and dip the whip into the meringue and extract it. Turn the whip tip-up, and watch the way the meringue behaves. Does the tip of the meringue fall over and disappear into the mass it sits above? You have soft peaks, keep whipping for about 4 more minutes. Does the meringue keep it’s shape, and the tip falls over on top of the mound? You’ve created medium peaks, you’re so close! Continue whipping for 2 more minutes. (If you were folding your meringue into a recipe, you’d likely stop here.) Is the meringue stiff and keeps a tall proud point on top like a stalagmite? Those are stiff peaks, congratulations, your meringue is ready to be shaped and baked! Does it break off into multiple peaks, and is kind of chunky? I’m so sorry, you’ve over whipped your meringue and you’ll have to start over.
- Working quickly shape your meringue into your desired shapes and get them in the 200 degree oven asap! Once the meringues are in the oven, throw the dishes in the sink, pause, and marvel at your molecular mastery. You’ve just successfully controlled two states of matter into permanent submission!