Italian Meringue made by cooking the sugar included in the recipe with water until it reaches 240 degrees, before you add it to the whipping egg whites. Because the individual sugar crystals are dissolved in water, all the sugar crystals are broken down into individual sucrose molecules before being added to the whipped egg whites. This means small additions of sugar, added slowly, are not necessary, instead, the sugar is added in a thin stream all at once. The sugars are now ready to start bonding with the water and proteins the moment they are added. The heat from the syrup also denatures the proteins more than agitation alone can achieve, creating stronger, more lasting bonds between them.
This strong glossy meringue is preferred anywhere meringue is served soft. You’ve likely had an Italian meringue mounded atop a lemon pie, it’s longevity preferred over French meringue for shop cases. Italian meringue also makes appearances wrapped around layer cakes. I knew it as “boiled icing” as a child when my grandmother would wrap layers of chocolate cake in it every year for my dad’s birthday.
Italian meringue is also used to make parfait and semifreddo, the French and Italian names for the same thing; a still frozen dessert with the flavor of ice cream and the body of mousse. Another frozen delight, Italian meringue encases ice creams and sorbets to make Baked Alaska before it’s browned in the oven and sent to the dining room ablaze.
In contemporary fine dining, Italian meringue is often applied directly to plates and torched as a toasty-marshmallow like component for plated desserts. Speaking of marshmallows, the lightest of them include egg whites, making them an Italian meringue. Unlike their jet-puffed American cousins, these French style marshmallows, called Giamauve, are melt-on-your-tongue marshmallow clouds.
One of Italian meringue’s starring roles is in buttercream frosting. The strong meringue is mixed with softened butter where it lightens the dense fat into a fluffy frosting.
Should you be so inclined, Italian meringue can also be used to make the French macaron, maintaining stability through the folding and piping process. Is Italian meringue better than French Meringue (link) for macarons? Depends on who you ask. Why not try your hand at both and become the expert!
200g egg whites
5g cream of tartar
10g vanilla extract
- Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl and begin mixing on low speed, number 6 on a kitchen aid.
- Meanwhile, place the water and sugar in a small heavy bottomed pot and transfer to a stovetop burner set to medium high heat. Cook, stirring only enough that the sugar dissolves, until the syrup reaches a boil. When the syrup starts to boil, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash any sugar crystals off the side of the pot as they appear. Continue cooking until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F.
- Ideally, the meringue will reach soft peaks at the same moment the syrup reaches 240 degrees. You’ll have to keep your eye on both items as they progress, increasing and decreasing the heat under the syrup if necessary to achieve this. If the egg whites reach soft peaks before the syrup has reached 240 degrees, turn the mixer to low speed, but do not stop it. Once you stop the motion, the proteins in the meringue continue to bond with each other, locking it in place, and will break when you begin whipping them again.
- When the syrup has reached 240 degrees, reduce the speed to medium low to prevent splatters of hot syrup flying at your face. Begin adding the syrup in a slow steady stream. Aim for the place where the whip and the bowl come closest to each other. Once all the syrup has been added, turn your mixer to medium high speed. This is in contrast to what is written in the article here (link), but we do this for good reason. The heat from the syrup will denature the proteins on contact, and will over cook them if we don’t start moving the mixture fast and grab as much air as we can.
- The Italian meringue will reach full volume and form stiff peaks, but it’s not completed until the meringue cools below 120 degrees, or is warm to the touch, but not hot. Just before it’s finished whipping, add the vanilla extract and whip until it’s completely incorporated.
- Fill the syrup-coated pot with water, set it aside, and bask at the glossy glow of your tall-peaked Italian meringue. Take your time, it’s not going anywhere for a little while. Once you’re done admiring your hard work, send it on it’s way to its final sweet destination.