In the pastry world there are three unique meringue techniques every chef learns. French, Swiss and Italian. Originating in the seventeenth century, this marshmallow-like confection, which is simply egg white foam stabilized by sugar, is the base for some the world’s tastiest desserts.
But have you ever wondered what sets these three meringues apart? Let me break it down for you while also letting you know what treats and desserts you can make with each of these meringue techniques!
First Things First. What is Meringue?
Meringue is a classic pastry technique where raw egg whites and sugar are whipped together until they form stiff peaks, resulting in a stable, fluffy mixture. The sweet, aerated meringue can then be used to make a variety of desserts. Including: pavlova, meringue cookies, buttercreams, mousse, ice cream and souffles, just to name a few.
What is a “Stable” Meringue?
A ‘Stable’ meringue refers to a meringue that holds its shape and texture without deflating or weeping. Having this information is useful in choosing which meringue to make based on the dessert or desired outcome you want. For example, when piping a beautiful design on top of a lemon tart, I would want to use an Italian Meringue because it is fully cooked (pasteurized) and will hold its shape without weeping or falling flat.
Types of Meringue?
Preparation: French Meringue (otherwise known as Common Meringue) is naturally gluten free and is the simplest of the meringues to make! It comes together by simply whipping two ingredients, sugar and raw egg whites. Within minutes these two ingredients transform into a glossy sweet, voluminous mixture.
Best for: French Meringue is light, airy and delicate. Perfect for making meringue cookies or pavlova.
Stability: French Meringue is the simplest to make. It is also uncooked and not considered stable.
Preparation: Swiss Meringue is a glossy, marshmallow-like confection that comes together within minutes of gently heating and whipping sugar and egg whites over a bain-marie.
Best for: Because Swiss Meringue is heated to a temperature of 46C/115F during the mixing process, it is much more stable than French Meringue and safe to consume without further baking and will hold its shape. This means it’s perfect for making buttercreams, cake fillings and adding pipping and decorative elements to desserts.
Stability:: Swiss Meringue is moderately stable and can be used in certain recipes without further cooking.
Preparation: Italian Meringue is coveted by pastry chefs because it is the most stable of all the meringues. It comes together by slowly pouring hot sugar syrup over beaten or whisked egg whites. This process gently cooks the egg whites, completing the pasteurization process without further baking. The results are a dense, marshmallow-like, silky texture.
Best for: Decorating dessert and tarts, buttercreams, masking cakes, Italian macarons and aerating mousses and ice cream bases.
Stability: Italian Meringue is the most stable and versatile because it is fully cooked.
Pastry Chef Tips for Making Perfect Meringue
- All equipment and utensils must be clean and dry. No traces of fat or grease (this includes egg yolk) can come into contact with the egg whites. The fat will interfere with the protein strands and will prevent the egg whites from whipping up to stiff peaks.
- Use room temperature egg whites. The room temperature egg whites will whip up faster as the proteins are relaxed and can better form a network that will aerate and maintain its shape.
- Add an acid. Adding cream of tartar, lemon juice or vinegar (all acids) will help relax the proteins, helping to stabilize the meringue and develop structure. You can add approx ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar or ½ teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar per 30g of egg white.
- Use clean sugar. Sugar that has come into contact with flour or other ingredients will cause the meringue to deflate or not whip to stiff peaks.
- Using an electric mixer. You will need to have your egg whites whipping on medium-low while the hot sugar syrup if cooking. Once they have reached soft peaks, you don’t want to stop mixing, so instead, turn the mixer down to the lowest setting. You want to maintain the soft peak so that it can come to stiff peaks with the hot sugar syrup.
Each meringue technique has its place in the pastry world and each only takes two ingredients to make. So if you are ready to get in the kitchen and whip up some meringue, check out my recipes for French, Swiss and Italian Meringue.
How to Separate Egg Whites and Yolks like a Pastry Chef
Recipe questions? I’d love to help!
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