Day 4, Tuesday
Lesson Four: MERINGUE
Meringue consists of egg whites and sugar. It is just a manipulation of those ingredients that gives us the varieties of French, Swiss, and Italian meringues.
A little background on egg whites and meringue. Egg whites are measured in volume, sugar has the same volume as it does weight. The final product merely depends upon the ratio of whites to sugar, in most cases it is 1:2 egg whites to sugar.
Egg whites are made up of two proteins: Albumin and Ovalbumin. These proteins are present in the shape of a coil. As we whip and expand the whites, the coil stretches out. Bouncing back it contracts and catches air, making peaks in the whites. Slowly very small air bubbles are visible, it's best to whip them at medium speed. This is mixing the protein and making the meringue as smooth as possible. Denaturing is the process of the expanding protein coils and capturing air making bubbles. It is trapping air at the denaturing point, but it is still unstable. When it bakes it turns white, this is the ovalbumin coagulating.
To maximize your results you have to insure your proteins are at room temperature. Sugar is added for taste, but if added too quickly it delays foaming and takes longer for the meringue to reach its desired consistency. It breaks the thin fragile air bubbles. Once the egg whites are 1/4 whipped the sugar can be added. After this point it will serve as a stabilizer for the foam.
Salt is also added, just a pinch or two in each recipe. It brings out the sweetness but is a retarder and destabilizes the foam and delays proper foaming.
An acid; Citric acid, such as lemon juice or Tartaric acid, Cream of Tartar, is also added. It helps the protein coagulate and denature, which are the same process of cooking. You don't want too much or else the meringue won't hold its shape. Tartaric acid are tannins, a byproduct of the wine industry, and dry out your mouth. Too much will in turn dry out your meringue.
You should use a copper or stainless steel bowl. Copper reduces the pH and helps the whites coagulate, creating a more stable foam, in a shorter amount of time. The downside to copper is its cost and properties as a soft metal- the bowl can misshape after extensive use. We will always make ours in a stainless mixing bowl or Kitchen Aid mixer.
The bowl must be absolutely clean and dry. Any fat prevents the egg whites from whipping up. Fat coats the coil and prevents foaming. There is a practice of "aging" your egg whites; this makes them stronger because more moisture evaporates. Make sure the eggs you are using are fresh. To age the egg whites you can leave them on the counter for a couple hours. Whites are best warm or at room temperature. You shouldn't over or under whip your meringues.
The three varieties that we will make today are: French Meringue (also called Common Meringue), Swiss Meringue, and Italian Meringue. We take our Italian Meringue to the next level by adding butter and creating an Italian Buttercream frosting.
French is a traditional meringue of whipped egg whites and sugar, beat until they are firm. This is the most unstable of the three.
In a Swiss the whites and sugar are whisked over a double boiler. The protein ovalbumin coagulates and this makes a stronger, more stable meringue. The sugar gets dissolved because of the heat, making a smooth texture. It is then moved to the mixer and whipped until cool and stiff. Degrees for 130-140 F cooks/ pasteurizes the egg whites.
An Italian meringue is the most labor intensive of the three. You whisk the whites to the foam stage while water and sugar and brought to 240 degrees F. The sugar will reach what is called "softball stage" after it is cooled meaning it will form a pliable ball. The hot syrup is poured into the whites and the whipping continues. This is an extremely stable meringue that is also very smooth and shiny.
The French is most commonly used for cookies, the Swiss for shells and bases to cakes, and the Italian for Italian Buttercream that is often used on wedding cakes.
A soft meringue has a 1:1 ratio and is good for cakes and the top of lemon meringue pie, as it is not too sweet. A hard meringue is a 1:1.5/2 and is used for mousses, piping rosettes on pies. It will caramelize faster because of the greater amount of sugar present. A Japonais has almond flour folded in and is piped, such as a french macaroon. Pate a' Bombe is made with egg yolks not egg whites and increases only 2-3's in volume into a dense, yet flavorful mixture.
Now for the fun part, actually making them!
120 ml egg white
1/4 tsp lemon juice
225 g sugar
Whisk the whites a little to break them up, then add the lemon juice. The whites will get frothy, at this point you can add the sugar. A side towel under the bowl will help keep it from sliding will you are when you are whisking.
240 ml egg whites
300 g sugar
I scaled out my ingredients and had my station set up with an induction burner and pot ready for my double boiler. I first set my thermometer for 130 degrees F and placed it in the water in the pot. Place a large stainless mixing bowl with the sugar and egg whites on top of the pot and begin to whisk. This stage is important because you are dissolving the sugar into the whites, but more importantly slightly cooking them with the assistance of the steam created by the double boiler. This creates a very different structure for the meringue, it is a lot fluffier and I would say the final product more resembles Marshmallow Fluff.
I have since moved the thermometer to monitor the temperature of the egg whites as I whisk, looking for my desired 130 degrees F. Once it has reached that point I transition and pour this mixture into the mixing bowl of the Hobart (or Kitchen Aid) mixing bowl. Start it at Speed 2 and when you see it getting really foamy, move it up to Speed 3. You are looking for a final product that is creamy white has is thick and holds its peak well off the whisk and has a nice shine. The whipping also cools the meringue making it ideal for piping. We piped using a plane round tip,#806, onto a sheet of parchment with a circle drawn on it. I began in the center and piped out into concentric circles creating the base for a cake. I also piped out a couple of swirls for fun.
Visibly stiff peaks. The meringue is very stable; as a test tip your mixing bowl upside down- nothing should move
120 ml egg whites
85 g light corn syrup
170 g sugar
60 ml water
For Italian Buttercream add 255 g softened butter
When handling corn syrup packaged in a large container it is easiest to take out with moistened hands, grabbing with your finger tips and putting that in a tin on your scale.
To make the Italian Meringue we need a pot, induction burner, mixer, and thermometer.
First in the pot is the water then corn syrup and sugar. If we added the sugar first and then the water, there would be uneven amounts of dry and wet sugar causing uneven heating and possible burning. Also the water coats the size of the pot from allowing sugar to stick and possible later crystallize. In the mixing bowl I have my scaled out egg whites ready for me. The sugar syrup needs to be cooked to a temperature of 220-225 degrees F. When the sugar reaches that point I start my mixer. If started to soon the whites will be too fluffy and the addition of the sugar syrup will cause them to collapse, and if I start them too late they won't reach the desired frothy stage that is ideal for the addition of the sugar.
In my mixing bowl are my egg whites waiting for the sugar to reach the proper temperature.
I cook the sugar, corn syrup and water to 220 degrees F with my thermometer in the pot. It is important never to stir the sugar when it is in the pot and later when boiling. The sugar will crystallize and eventually ruin your syrup for this recipe.
I continue whisking as the meringue builds in volume, thickens, and takes on a lovely sheen. It is still very warm, feeling the bottom of the bowl with my hand, so I turn the speed down to 2 to allow more air to incorporate, and in turn lower the temperature. At this point the Italian Meringue is done, but today I am making it into a buttercream frosting. I need the meringue to be cool before I add my butter, so it does not melt and separate. After a couple of minutes it is cool enough to slowly add small dabs of the unsalted butter. The final product is light and fluffy with a sweet, rich buttery taste that will make any cake worth eating!