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Test Kitchen tips: Making meringue

Chiffonmeringueannecusack

Essentially a combination of egg whites and sugar whipped to frothy peaks, meringue is a simple but key player in a variety of baking and pastry recipes.

Use it as a topping, gracing lemon or key lime pies, or maybe spread it over a cake as a classic seven-minute frosting. It can be used as a leavener, added to cake batters (angel food, chiffon and other sponge cakes) to lighten the crumb, give lift to souffles, or used to lighten custard and cream fillings. Bake it as a dessert element (a vacherin or hard meringue container) or use it as the base for macaron cookies. The options are almost endless.

To make the most of your meringue, follow a few basic tips:

  • Use room temperature egg whites. Room temperature egg whites will give greater volume than cold whites just out of the refrigerator.
  • Whip the whites using a clean bowl and beater. Dirt and oils will prevent the whites from properly foaming as they are beaten.
  • Sometimes acids (lemon juice, cream of tartar) are added to the whites. Acids help the whites to foam and make them stable.
  • Beat the whites over low speed to strengthen the structure of the bubbles as they form, then slowly "rain" in the sugar with the mixer going, a tablespoon or so at a time. If incorporating cooked sugar, with the mixer running, slowly pour the sugar off to the side away from the beater to keep it from hitting the beater and splashing on the sides of the bowl. (Sugar hitting the sides of the bowl can cool and harden quickly; if this happens, don't try to incorporate it into the meringue -- it won't incorporate, and will only make the meringue lumpy.)
  • Keep beating (you can slowly increase the speed of the mixer), just until the whites come to the correct volume, whether soft (peaks fall over when beater is lifted), medium (peaks droop slightly) or stiff (shown at top -- peaks stay firm) peaks.
  • Be careful not to overbeat the eggs. Check the eggs periodically as they thicken; if the eggs overbeat (they will look crumbly), their delicate structure will break down. The meringue should look smooth, shiny and moist; overbeaten meringues cannot be fixed.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or e-mail me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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-- Noelle Carter
Twitter/noellecarter

Photo credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

 
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