In making a basic meringue, you’re essentially whipping egg whites and sugar until you get a shiny and stiff foam. Yes, you read right – foam. Egg white foams have a lot in common with soap suds, just that one tastes much better than the other.
Transforming see-through egg whites into a stable foam can seem daunting, but if you follow 3 simple rules, your meringues and pavlovas will always rise to the occasion!
Rule #1: Use fresh eggs.
When you whip egg whites, the protein in the egg whites forms a mesh that captures air bubbles. In older eggs, this protein begins to break down, reducing the egg white’s ability to hold on to air.
Also, the yolks of fresh eggs hold together better than those of older eggs. This makes separating the yolk from white a much less precarious situation.
Rule #2: No fat whatsoever!
Fat in the egg whites makes it impossible for a foam to form. Unfortunately, egg yolks already contain fat. What this means is that you have to be extremely careful when separating the yolk from the white. As I’ve said earlier, using fresh eggs makes separating easier.
There are several ways to separate the yolk from the white. One way is to crack open the egg, and then tip the yolk from one half-shell to the other a few times, letting the white fall into a bowl below. Or you could also use a egg separator like this. There’s also a really cool and simple method that I saw on YouTube recently which uses a plain ol’ plastic water bottle to suction off the yolk.
It’s also a good idea do your separating in a different bowl to the ones that would hold all your yolks and whites. In other words, separate each egg yolk from its white over an empty bowl and not over the bowl that already contains the whites you’ve separated earlier. That way you don’t ruin entire batches of whites.
Fat could also be lurking on your mixing bowl and beaters because fat just clings on to everything! (Love handles, anyone?) To eliminate all fat on your equipment, give them a quick wipe with a paper towel and a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice.
Rule #3: Add in the sugar SLOWLY.
Even though the protein in egg whites can hold on to air, it’s not going to last forever. This is where the sugar comes in. The sugar will dissolve in the water component of the egg whites, and this sugar solution replaces the protein mesh, stabilising the foam. It also makes the foam nice and shiny!
You’ll need to add the sugar as slowly as possible, a tablespoon at a time while your mixer is running. This gives the sugar a chance to dissolve properly and not pool at the bottom of the egg whites.
- Your egg whites should be at room temperature. (Although not strictly necessary, but it does speed up the process.)
- Use a pinch of cream of tartar as insurance. Add in about 1/4 tsp for every 4 egg whites to boost their foam-producing capabilities.
- Adding a pinch of salt and a few drops of some acid like vinegar or lemon juice at the beginning will help your foam get going.
- Save the yolks! They can be used in a custard, a basic yellow cake, or ice creams.