A meringue is essentially an airy, light, and sweet mixture of whipped egg whites and sugar. It can be baked into lovely, delightful meringue cookies, or used in various applications, such as a base for creamy Swiss meringue buttercream and soufflé, a puffy and fluffy French dish.
Most interestingly, despite only requiring a couple of ingredients, there are different ways to prepare a meringue, and these different methods lend itself to different applications.
In general, meringues require some form of whipped up egg whites and incorporation of sugar. The difference between different styles of meringues is simply in the way it’s prepared. In this article, we will be touching on the 3 different types of meringues – French, Swiss, and Italian, how to use them, and tips on making them!
The Different Types of Meringue
1. French Meringue
French meringue is made by first whipping up egg whites until the mixture reaches soft peaks, before gradually adding sugar until the mixture reaches stiff peaks. When unbaked, the French meringue loses stability over time. Hence, it is best used as a basis for soufflé or piped onto a cookie sheet and baked as cookies.
Application: This style of meringue is the easiest to make, and most popularly used for making into meringue cookies. Throw in some spices or flavours, and you’ll be whipping (pun completely intended) up a gourmet treat with a snap of your fingers. This style creates the lightest meringue, but also the least stable.
2. Swiss Meringue
Swiss meringue is denser and glossier as compared to its French cousin.
It is made by first mixing together egg whites and sugar, then heated over a bain-marie, or double-boiler until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture reaches a temperature of 71°C. The mixture is then whipped on high speed until it reaches stiff peaks.
Tip: If you do not have a kitchen thermometer, check by making sure the sugar is completely dissolved by rubbing the mixture between your fingers. The mixture should also be opaque.
Application: This style of meringue is my personal favourite for making frosting on a cake. It’s slightly more complicated, but when made into a Swiss meringue buttercream, it yields a light, creamy (and dreamy!) yet stable frosting that is perfect for decorating and piping.
3. Italian Meringue
Italian meringue is generally considered to be the most stable of the meringues (which makes it suitable for making frosting too), but also, the most difficult to make of the three meringue types. You'll also need a kitchen thermometer as your mixture has to reach a temperature of 115°C (very hot!).
An Italian meringue is made by heating sugar with water until 115°C. In the meantime, you want to whip up egg whites to soft peaks, and drizzle the hot sugar syrup in while it whips to stiff peaks.
Application: With Italian meringue, you are able to top desserts with it because of its fluffy, marshmallowy texture, or use it in buttercream like its Swiss counterpart. I personally prefer using Swiss meringue because of its ease of preparation, and I generally do not find that there’s a huge difference in taste. I’ll chalk it down to personal preference!
Tips For Making Meringues
If you’re ready to get into the kitchen and practise making your own meringues, here are some general tips for you to note when making any of these meringues:
#1 Fresh eggs or old eggs?
There are people who swear by either, but the science is simple - Older eggs have thinner egg whites, and are thus easier to whip up and create fluffier meringues. However, they are also less stable. If you’re looking for more stability in your meringues, use fresh eggs.
#2 Use room temperature egg whites
One of the most important parts of whipping up a meringue is ensuring that the sugar dissolves completely. Using room temperature egg whites will help that process along, and it’s especially true for French meringues where external heat isn’t introduced.
Tip: Cold egg whites are easier to separate, so we suggest separating the eggs when they are cold, then leaving the egg whites out at room temperature.
#3 Adding an acid
If you’ve looked up meringue recipes, you will see that some recommend lemon juice or cream of tartar. What the acidity does is to add flexibility to the foam, and while it takes longer to whip up a meringue with an added acid, it helps to create more stability in your meringues.
#4 Sugar’s not only for sweetening
The sugar to egg whites ratio is very important in whipping up meringues. In general, you want to use 1 part egg whites to two parts sugar. Sugar binds with the water content in egg whites, and ensures that the structure is held in place. Don’t skimp!
#5 Clean, large glass/copper/metal bowl
Whipping up egg whites can increase its volume by up to 8 times, so you definitely don’t want to have to change your bowls in the middle of whipping. Ensure that your bowl is free from oil, grease, and fat (basically clean), because these will inhibit the egg whites from stabilising. That’s also the reason why we do not recommend using a plastic bowl, as they tend to keep some grease or dirt from previous uses.