How to make the perfect meringue
Many a passionate cook has written to me with stories of meringue woe, most commonly: “I whisked the eggs and sugar to within a very inch of their lives and after a good twenty minutes the meringues looked like old bubbles disappearing on the surface of a bath. Lorraine, what have I done wrong?”
There a few simple tricks to ensure you achieve a meringue so shiny and stiff, you will want to stick it on the shelf and frame it. From the Guardian, to Delia, to Rick Stein to BBC Good Food, there are some great tips out there, but this is my take on the mystery of meringue...
Always start with a large bowl - a well-whipped egg white can increase eight fold with the correct amount of whisking. Pop in four medium egg whites, or if you are using the pasteurised version which comes from supermarkets in a carton, add 150ml/5fl oz of this genius stuff. (Do bear in mind though that pasteurised egg whites will never increase so much in volume as our fresh friends.) Add the tinniest of lemon squeezes; a couple of droplets is all it needs. This will stop the egg whites from being over whisked.
A "stiff peak"
Next begin whisking the eggs. Now the brave amongst you will be doing this with a balloon whisk. While I do use the balloon whisk for many different things, whisking up egg white is not one of them. An electric whisk makes this job so much easier and a lot more fun. The whites will turn from a yellowy tinged transparent mixture to an opaque grey fluffy one. Keep whisking as the eggs begin to increase to twice their volume. This is called the soft peak stage. Stick a whisk in, get a bit of white on the end and then turn the whisk, upside down. The mixture will just flop off at best. Now take 220g/8oz of caster sugar and add about one-third of it to the mixture.
Whisk the mixture and watch the magic begin to happen... it will begin to double in size again. Keep whisking until the whites go a shiny brighter white. Stick the whisk(s) in again and then turn one upside down. The little bit on the end should be stiffer, but still a little floppy. Add another third of the sugar and whisk the egg whites again, and then repeat with the remaining sugar. The trick is to whisk up the egg whites and sugar well every time between each addition. If your mixture looks runny after you have added the first lot of sugar and whisked it up, don’t add any more sugar until the mixture begins to firm up.
You will know when you have a stiff peak when you can hold the bowl right over your head and the mixture stays in. Or, a less risky way of testing is, as you have done before, whisk in the mixture then turn it upside down. The peak should be stiff shiny and really, really white, like a silky vinyl white emulsion paint.
Watch the neighbours' curtains twitching enviously as you parade your stiff shiny meringue peak proudly around your kitchen! So now all you need to do is decide how to serve them. What’s your favourite meringue recipe? Are you a lover of lemon meringue pie, fruity pavlova or never-out-of-fashion Eton mess? And do you have any good tips for making meringue?
Lorraine Pascale is the presenter of the new BBC Two series Baking Made Easy.