Virginia Willis Blog

How to Make Meringue: The Perfect Spring Dessert

Recently, I had an interesting exchange with an editor that wanted to use my recipe for Meringue Pillows with Strawberries and Cream  from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all in a non-food publication. We exchanged a few emails and I sent the recipe along — then she emailed me back, saying that it looked too hard.

Huh? Really. Wow.

That was a wake-up call. Her concerns involved the term “heavy-duty mixer” and the usage of parchment paper to line the baking sheet.

Well, the usage of the term “heavy-duty mixer” is a carry over from my days at Martha Stewart, that was the sly verbiage we used to indicate our preference for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. The parchment paper fear worried me a bit, but I guess she felt her readers might not have parchment paper, much less a silpat.

Instead of being ticked off, I was grateful. My goal, the reason I write recipes, food stories, and cookbooks is to get folks in the kitchen cooking real food. The exchange made me realize I can change my language to make it more user-friendly.

My whole raison d’etre is that proper technique is the key to good cooking. And, proper technique doesn’t mean something is difficult, expensive, or time-consuming. Julia Child supposedly once said, “If you understand the technique, you don’t need a recipe.” Outfitted with a foundation of solid techniques and fundamental recipes, a cook can accomplish many things. Most of us aren’t going to grow up and become Julia Child, but what she said is true.

So, going forward I will remove the words “heavy-duty” when using a mixer, alert people who the parchment paper is on the same aisle as the garbage bags and is nothing to be scared of, and lastly, continue with my absolute best effort to teach folks how to cook.

I hope you enjoy my recipe for Meringue Pillows. It’s the perfect spring dessert for your Passover or Easter table.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

PS Want to share some really awesome news.  Bill Daley from the Chicago Tribune listed me as one of Seven Food Writers to Know in his piece about American food writing!

Let’s Get Cooking – Whip it Up

This is easy. Promise. It’s just egg whites and sugar whipped and then baked. Meringue is a combination of egg whites and sugar whipped to form a thick, stiff foam. Different textures are achieved by varying the methods of mixing the sugar and egg whites, and varying the baking times and temperatures. Meringue can be made soft to top a pie, or dried in the oven to make a dacquoise or meringue cookie.

A French meringue is the simplest meringue; it is made by beating sugar into egg whites until stiff and fluffy.

A Swiss meringue is made by heating egg whites and sugar in a double boiler until the mixture reaches 110°F to 120°F. Then the mixture is beaten until stiff. This technique ensures that the sugar is completely dissolved and stabilizes the meringue.

An Italian meringue is the most stable meringue. It is made by heating a sugar syrup to the soft-ball stage, 232°F to 240°F, then beating the hot syrup into the egg whites. Adding butter to the finished meringue makes it buttercream frosting.

Seven Simple Steps for Successful Meringue

  1. Use very fresh eggs for the most stable foam. Properly beaten egg whites are the key to a masterful meringue. Beating egg whites is quite simply incorporating air into the egg white foam.
  2. It is imperative that the whites must be absolutely free of any yolk or fat.  Use only glass or stainless steel bowls, plastic bowls can retain a film of oil. The bowl and beater should be perfectly clean. Any dab of grease or the tiniest amount of fat will keep the egg whites from expanding properly.
  3. The ingredients should be at room temperature to get the best volume out of your meringue. However, since it’s far easier to separate whites from yolks when they’re cold, go ahead and separate your eggs straight out of the refrigerator. Then, let the whites warm to room temperature. You can also speed the process by putting the bowl over warm water.
  4. When separating the eggs, crack one egg at a time into a cup, transferring each individual white to the mixing bowl of egg whites only after it is successfully separated. There is nothing worse that ruining the entire batch on the last egg!
  5. When ready to beat the whites, start slowly. In the clean metal bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add a bit of cream of tartar or vinegar. Adding acid helps create a stable foam that will hold up until heat cooks the egg proteins and sets the meringue.
  6. After adding the acid, increase the speed to high and continue beating just until the whites are stiff, but not dry, and no longer slip when the bowl is tilted.
  7. Don’t try to make meringues on a very humid day. The humidity can prevent the meringues from ever getting crisp.

Meringue Pillows with Strawberries

Meringue Pillows with Strawberries

This sweet dessert is actually virtually fat free – unless you top it with whipped cream, of course. It’s a delicious indulgence that marries perfectly with fresh spring strawberries.

Ingredients

Unsalted butter or canola oil and all-purpose flour for the pans, if using parchment paper
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon, or to taste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or to taste
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
Whipped cream, for garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with silicone baking liners or parchment paper; set aside. (If you are using parchment paper, it is necessary to butter or lightly oil and flour the parchment. Then, before shaping the pillows, dab a little bit of meringue at the corners to hold the paper in place.)
  2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed with salt and cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually – just a little at a time – add the 1 cup granulated sugar and vanilla, beating at high speed until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. (If the sugar is added to fast it will weigh down the eggs and they won’t inflate.)
  3. Using a rubber spatula, spoon six 1-cup blobs (yes, it’s a technical term) of meringue onto each prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 to 3 inches of space between the blobs.
  4. Using a small, wet offset spatula, shape the blobs into rectangles, creating 6 smooth pillows.
  5. Decrease the oven temperature to 200°F. Place the baking sheets in the oven; bake until the meringues are crisp on the outside but have a marshmallow consistency inside, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check the consistency by poking into the bottom of one meringue pillow. If the meringues start to brown, decrease the oven temperature to 175°F. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Meanwhile, combine the strawberries, Grand Marnier, and the remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. When you are ready to serve, using your hands or the back of a knife, gently crack the meringue pillows and place on small plates. Top with the macerated berries. Garnish with mint, a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, and a dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.
http://blog.virginiawillis.com/2012/04/how-to-make-meringue-the-perfect-spring-dessert/

PHOTO CREDIT: Helene Dujardin of the blog Tartelette (and the photographer of my most recent book Basic to Brilliant, Y’all)

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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5 Responses to “How to Make Meringue: The Perfect Spring Dessert”

  1. I love meringues and feel so guilty when I buy them at a store-they really are quite simple to make and this recipe shows you in every last detail. Impress your guests or family and don’t ever let them see you make these!

  2. Actually I think it was Martha’s (and yours) heavy parchment rotation that spurred greater acceptance of parchment paper and it’s spread into everyday grocery stores. Martha and Williams Sonoma pushed Kitchen Aid into high end kitchen bling. I guess you could have suggested straight up whisking your meringues bypassing all machinery. Who does that anymore (outside Top Chef)?

    I truly appreciate your desire to teach. While cooking isn’t brain surgery it certainly intimidates folks. I’ve seen brilliant business people completely fall into a whimpering puddle of goo when faced with cooking simple food. Don’t fear the meringue or you’ll miss out on some tasty goodness.

  3. In addition to simplifying the machine to “mixer,” you might also leave out “fitted with the whisk.” My 50-year old Sunbeam mixer with its regular beaters works just fine for meringue, provided, as you say, that the bowl and beaters are absolutely clean, the egg whites are fresh, and that they are at room temperature. I remember my grandmother making meringue with a hand-held whisk. Laborious, but it worked fine.

  4. I’d add to Jean’s comment maybe “fitted with a whisk attachment if you have one.”
    Your blobs are a lot prettier than mine!
    If folks are scared of parchment, they can try my mother’s old technique: cut brown paper grocery-store bags into rectangles the size of one’s cookie sheet.
    Thanks as always, Virginia….

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