How to make Swiss meringue – fool proof meringue

Swiss and Italian meringues are stable meringues, they are heated just enough to denature the proteins.  The Swiss method is made over a bain-marie and the Italian method is heated through hot syrup poured in.  In doing this the meringues don’t weep, they can be made in advance covered and stored in the fridge.  The Swiss method is a great one to have in your collection of know-hows, it’s quick and easy.  If you want to nurd up on eggs the must have book is Paula Figoni’s How Baking Works.

This meringue should be re-named the fool proof meringue, maybe then its popularity would increase.  So many books have left it out of their meringue repertoire and I don’t understand why.   Gregoire tells me the use of Italian meringue is popular with pastry chefs because they can control the end texture better with the syrup method, and that makes sense.  Italian meringue produces what I would describe as whipped double cream texture.  The Swiss meringue if not careful can be over-cooked and produce a stiff more of a cotton-wool-like texture.  I can see if wanting to be incorporated into mousses, having more control with the texture would make the Italian way more desirable.

Texture of French, Italian, Swiss

The general held belief is that the Swiss method makes for a less delicate meringue than the other two methods.  The Swiss method results in a marshmallowy finish, the Italian or French for a whipped cream texture.  However, and there is a however, this matters very little if making meringue to top a tart or dessert as in the Apple, Custard, Meringue Dessert recipe.  Meringue baked this way, partially, with the outside crisp and the inside soft and pillowy it doesn’t matter so much whether it’s whipped cream texture or marshmallow in texture, it still tastes glorious.

And I would like to argue here, if carefully made the Swiss meringue can be cooked to the whipped cream stage, therefore also suitable for delicate textured desserts.

The Italian

The problem with the Italian method is how it can go wrong if you let the syrup cool even the slightest on the way to pouring into the egg whites.  This is a problem if you don’t have a stand-alone machine such as a kitchen aid and are using a hand held electric whisk.  When the syrup cools instead of being incorporated effortlessly into the egg whites it will solidify into little hard balls on the side of the bowl or the whisk.  At this point you have wasted your eggs.

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With my tips I will show how to make a Swiss meringue whipped to two different stages, soft whipped as photo above or stiffer for pipping.  Although it is easier doing this using a thermopen, it can also be done without one with careful attention.

Swiss meringue 1

Making Swiss Meringue

Find a pan where the bowl will sit comfortably without touching the water.  Bring the water to below simmering point, you can see steam forming but there are no bubbles forming in the water or if there are it will only be one or two literally.  Add your egg whites and sugar, in this case caster sugar (superfine) but you can make it with granulated sugar.

There are many recipes using icing sugar which has the added advantage of cornflour (cornstarch) but using icing sugar irritates me with the amount of mess it makes and I haven’t seen the benefits to the end result to warrant using it.  I use plastic bowls all the time, which many caution not to use but I have never had a problem with plastic bowls.  They only become a problem if not washed properly with soap and are left with grease residue.

Swiss meringue 2

Place the bowl on top of the hot water and start whisking.

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Keep the whisks moving around the bowl making sure they touch the bottom of it, this helps the mixture at the bottom not to over-cook.

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When the meringue starts to form patterns of ‘waves’ that are very defined, you are close to being ready, stop the whisk and see.

Swiss meringue 3

Soft-set

The mixture should hold its shape nicely forming peaks, at this point the temperature of thermopen should range between 45-50˚C. Nearer the bottom of the bowl, where it is closer to the water, it will register at the higher temperature.  At this temperature you will have a soft-set Swiss meringue, like the one in the green bowl below, stable and good for incorporating into recipes and even for spooning on to things like a tart, but it will not hold to a defining shape which means you can not pile it high.

Swiss meringue 4

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Stiff-set

For a stiffer set meringue put the bowl back on top of the pan and continue whisking over the heat for a short while until the thermopen reaches around 55˚C or thereabouts, it may take as little as 2-3 minutes.

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The peaks at this point will be stiffer and finer.  To show how stable the meringue is the peak above did not change for over an hour, at which point I had to tidy up and transfer the meringue to the fridge.

meringue close up

Pushing it

In the photo above marked in blue is showing signs where I pushed it to the limits and over-heated it.  It is the area of the meringue that was closest to the heat, setting a bit firmer than I would ideally like, but it was still fine for pipping on top of desserts.  It’s quite forgiving in that way.

Both soft and stiff set Swiss meringues were covered and stored in the fridge for 24 hours and came out looking as they do in the photo below.

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The soft-set is still lovely and luscious and stable, no weeping.

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The stiff-set looking as good as when it was made.

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After keeping the meringue for another day, 48hrs since making it, I could see small signs of deterioration and my advice would be to use within 24hrs of making it for best results if pipping.