All In One Meringue Method

I have a friend who’s complaint was she couldn’t make French meringues.   I can understand how people get in a muddle with pastry as the fat melts, breaks the pastry and so on, but with meringue it’s a simple matter of whisking and they’ve always performed for me.  This friend can bake so I didn’t offer help, but would be willing, very willing in fact to help if she wanted me to.  I try not to butt in, not everyone wants you to you know.

Knowing this great piece of advice…bite lip, be very careful not to get sensitive soul’s back up…still didn’t stop me however automatically butting in at Dan’s workshop two weeks ago.  I wasn’t even conscious of doing it until too late.  I dived in and touched someone else’s dough in order to point out the little air pockets full of flour which hadn’t been mixing in well enough.  I really didn’t mean to do it.   It was the mother-in-me coming out and taking-over instinct.   I saw the person’s look of horror, quickly retrieved my hand and apologised repeatedly for touching their dough.  I’m not sure if I was quite forgiven for my blunder.  It’s like the no-no of touching a baby you don’t know and watching their mother’s face stiffen up...yeah…that was me with my first born.

I saw this method of making French meringue some time back in an Australian cooking program where all the sugar and egg whites are added together at the same time.   I wanted to see how well or if at all, they turned out.  They did turn out well.   You’ll have to excuse the fact I screwed up on the baking of them, but regardless of my screw up they turned out well enough.

I used this all-in-one method on two separate occasions.  For the piped individual meringues below made them last month, and the meringue disk at bottom of post in the step-by-step was made back in May 2010.  The method works but with a piece of advice from me on whisking.

 Different French Meringue Methods Different Results

Going to back to my friend who can bake but not make meringues, well it transpired a little while ago it wasn’t her that was the problem but the recipe for meringues she was using.  As soon as she changed the cookbook and tried a different way she no longer had the problem with making them.

And what was wrong with the recipe my friend was using?  It was one of these recipes I’ve come across but never followed, stating to whisk in half the caster sugar (superfine sugar) and then fold in the rest of the caster sugar.

A typical French meringue recipe will say;  whisk egg whites until start to form soft peaks, then a bit at a time add the caster sugar and whisk in well between each addition, you’ll see the mixture glossing up.  Whisk until all the sugar is incorporated and you have stiff peaks.

What’s Wrong With Folding Sugar In?

Harold McGee will tell you if you want to produce a soft, frothy consistency meringue suitable for spreading on pies or folding into mousse, to whisk egg whites to soft peaks first and only then fold in all of the sugar.  This method according to him is not suitable to shape because it’s too fragile.  He suggests for a firmer denser meringue to beat the sugar in, this will subdivide the bubbles and, “the cohesiveness of the sugar-water mixture noticeably tightens the foam’s texture.  The longer you beat the egg-sugar mixture, the stiffer it will get and the more finely it can be shaped.”  When he refers to the  ‘sugar-water’  mixture he’s talking about the water content in an egg white which is made up of almost 90% water. (according to How Baking Works textbook)

Folding in the sugar will produce a softer meringue mixture but fragile, and I guess that’s the answer to my friend’s recipe trouble.

More Than One Way to French Meringue…ooh la la…

When making French meringue there is more than one way, a common way is as I’ve mentioned to whisk the egg whites first to soft peak and then whisk in the sugar, usually in stages.  However, as with the method here shows, All-In-One, you can produce stable meringue in different ways.

McGee refers to professionals adding all of the sugar to the bowl with only some of the egg white and beat that in, then, keep on adding egg white mixture until the required consistency of meringue is reached.  This different way round produces stiff, supple meringue according to McGee, with a resulting denser than usual and less brittle when dry.

I mentioned a tip I had when whisking this All-In-One method 

It relates to what the textbooks say about whisking meringue which I didn’t realise at the time when making these.  Only now while posting I’m checking up in the books and see that McGee, How Baking Works and Advance Bread and Pastry books all say;  the stiffer you whisk in the sugar the more fine you can pipe the meringue.  (But this also depends on how much sugar you have in the mixture, I’ll explain further down)

I made 2 batches of these piped meringues, now look at the above photo.  You see the larger meringue where the ridges of the shape are not as well defined as the smaller meringue next to it?  Well that was my first batch where I was too scared of over-whisking and stopped too soon.   It was forming peaks, seemed steady and I decided before I mess up to stop and pipe, but by the time I had bagged and piped on to baking sheet it was losing some of its shape.

The little more defined meringue next to it, I whisked further feeling more confident, and it produced a more stable meringue, one that held its shape well, all the way through piping.  You can see a close up below of how more defined the piping is.

How Much To Whisk in All-In-One Method?

My tip in making this method of French Meringue is to whisk much more than you first think you need to.  I was coming from the habit of making it by adding the sugar bit by bit very well and by the time I’ve incorporated the last of the sugar, it’s a well whisked meringue.

In this All-In-One method it will take longer to come up to peak and then after that you need to mix relatively more to a very stiff mixture.  As stiff as I have in the photo above, the peaks are stiff standing very proud.

What About Over-Mixing?

If the recipe says double the amount of sugar to egg white and this method does, you can get away with whisking much more without fearing of over-whisking.

You have to excuse me here because even though I’m at home with grams when it comes to breads, with cakes and meringues my head works in ounces because of how I learnt to bake.  Anyway, the usual standard recipe for meringue in this country is 2 egg whites = 4 ounces of caster sugar (superfine).  And 4 ounces is 113 grams, of course round off the grams because egg whites come in different sizes anyway.

I just weighed this afternoon for your benefit different sets of egg white, and the first 2 egg whites weighed 83 grams, the second 2 egg whites weighed 63 grams, the difference of 20 grams.  Not a big deal for most home baking but you can see why professional bakers weigh eggs like any other ingredient.

If the meringue mixture asks for double the sugar to egg white, you’re in a safer place with whisking.  If however it asks for less sugar, say equal sugar to egg white or less, then you have to be more careful with the whisking.

Do You Want the Nerdy Stuff?

If ever there’s an ingredient there’s so much nerdy detail in baking textbooks I suppose egg is one of them, buy the books if you’re like me.  Keeping it relevant to meringue, The How Baking Works book will tell you there are more than 6 different types of proteins in egg white, these are responsible for structure building and aeration.  As you beat the egg white these proteins unravel and attach themselves in network form.

On page 273 of that book it has a good diagram of an air bubble and around the edge of the air bubble little squiggles have been drawn to show that’s the egg protein attaching itself around the air bubble’s edge.  The air bubbles surrounded by these ‘filmy’ networks from the egg proteins will stabilise, allowing for more air bubbles to be formed.  There’s how your air bubbles are made.

Jump to Advance Bread and Pastry book it says when a meringue has high proportion of sugar, double to the egg whites, “the proteins need longer to go through their process of unravelling and forming the bonds that secure pockets of air and water.”  And importantly it also says that sugar, “…also helps reinforce the bond of water and air to the protein matrix.”

If making a meringue with less sugar (equal sugar to egg white or less) will produce a softer, lighter foam with more volume but easier to over-beat, “… yet easily yield a stable meringue for piping or adding to formulas like cakes and lemon meringue pie.”

OK – a light bulb has just lit up above my head…”Meringue Pie!”

It has bugged me in the past when following a recipe and ending up with a weeping meringue in a lemon meringue pie.  I had concluded the only way to overcome this was to make an Italian Meringue since it remains stable but can be a pain to make.  Now next time I’m going to try this suggestion and see if it easily resolves the problem.

All in One

The photos below were taken back in May 2010.  My first attempt at All-In-One method, back then it didn’t click I was under-beating therefore couldn’t get the meringue to hold its shape properly and ended up with a flat disk.  Ah…never mind…still…proves all-in-one method works.

 

Should have carried on whisking at this stage…..

Cracks

By the way I read in McGee that adding some icing sugar which contains cornstarch helps with stopping meringues to crack as it absorbs some of the moisture when baking.  I had a look at my packet of icing sugar and doesn’t contain cornstarch but it does contain anti-caking agent E341, tricalcium phosphate.  I’m stabbing a guess it will do a similar job of absorbing moisture as cornstarch does!  More experiments to do then.