Meringue is an absolute staple in my kitchen because of its amazing versatility in so many recipes! Buttercreams, mousses, brownies, chiffon cake, lady fingers, jaconde sponge etc, etc, etc… 😉 If its light, airy and fluffy, you can bet it has some sort of meringue incorporated inside.
A little science…
So what is a meringue and how does it do the magical thing it does in so many of these wonderful dessert and pastry recipes? It’s a simple science really, when two baking staples come together and whip to a stiff peak of perfection. These two ingredients are egg whites and sugar.
We all know that egg whites contain proteins. When these proteins are agitated or whipped, they form a coil or interlocked system of protein, water and air bubbles. The more agitation, the stronger and tighter the proteins become. Sugar not only provides the sweetness to this meringue, but is also more importantly known to give more stability at the surface of these coil systems, therefore providing more of a stable structure for these egg proteins to form and keep their shape for a considerable amount of time.
Types of meringue
There are 3 different types of meringues that can be made known as French, Swiss and Italian.
French (common meringue) is made by adding dry granulated sugar into frothed egg whites and beaten to desired peak. Applications for this type of meringue are for topping pies and aerating cake or waffle batters or for piping and baking to make cookies like French macarons.
Swiss is made by whisking and heating the sugar and whites over a double boil to dissolve the sugar and cook the eggs until they reach 165F. Then it is transferred back to the mixer and whipped until stiff peak is formed. This is one of the more stable meringues and can be used in various applications like the common meringue.
Italian is made by cooking a sugar water mixture to soft ball stage(230-230F high altitude or 240F at sea level). At this point, the sugar syrup is then slowly poured into the frothed egg whites while beating on medium high speed and continues to beat until a stiff peak is formed. This is the most stable of the meringues and is used for making various mousses and buttercream and for a lot of decorative work.
- Always start with a clean, dry bowl before adding the egg whites to it. You won’t have much luck getting a good froth much less the volume you are looking for otherwise.
- A good ratio to always remember for making a good meringue is 1 part egg whites to 2 parts sugar. The sugar provides better stability and allows the egg whites to hold their shape longer!
- a little amount of acid can be used to relax the proteins and provide more stability for the meringue. Acids like lemon juice, cream of tartar or vinegar are good options.
- Room temperature whites will whip up faster, but I don’t find it necessary or see any difference in the finished product either way.
- Avoid overwhipping egg whites. They will become dry, lumpy and the proteins will become so tightly intertwined that the water tends to seep out. If this happens, you should start the process over with new egg whites.
Classic meringue shells
Ok so now that we’ve had a little introduction into the types of meringues there are and how to use them. Let’s get to the recipe for meringue shells!
These are also known as meringue nests because of how similar they look to a bird’s nest. They are also more classically known as Pavlovas. Where they are baked and filled with some type of cream and garnished with fresh fruit. They make the most beautiful dessert perfect for spring and summer. It’s so light and delicious and the presentation so elegant. You will find that not only are they easy to prepare but they are a definite crowd pleaser and go-to spring and summertime dessert time and time again!
Yield: 10 – 4” round meringue shells
Oven temp: 200F
- 175 g Egg whites
- 350 g granulated sugar
Place egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment… Start whipping on medium speed to get the whites frothy. This should take a minute or two.
At this point, you can start adding the granulated sugar about a teaspoon at a time. This is a very important step as you want to be able to give the sugar time to dissolve into the moisture of the egg whites while also being careful not to over saturate the egg whites! If this happens you won’t get the volume you are looking for, so be patient and let the meringue develop into the pillowy, cloud of sweetness it’s meant to become!☺️
Once you’ve take the time to gradually add the sugar, you will see the meringue start to get glossy, thick and very white in color! Stop the mixer to do a peak test. Lift and pull the whip attachment from the mixer. Dip the whip into the meringue and if it keeps its peak when you turn it up, then you’ve achieved the perfect French meringue! It should be smooth and shiny in appearance…
Now you are ready to pipe the meringue into shells onto a baking sheet…Make sure to line your pan with parchment paper or a silpat mat before hand. This allows the finished shells to be easily lifted from the pan after baking. You can also trace circles into the paper for even sizing. This helps you have a consistent product and serving size every time!
Now you’ll need to get a pastry bag with a decorative pastry tip placed on the end. I love using a rosette tip like the one seen below..
Now fill the pastry bag with the meringue using a spatula. Fill bag half full for better handling when piping. Twist the bag closed and start piping!
You want to start piping into the center of each circle gradually moving outward creating a spiral. Once you’ve reached the edge of the circle, stop and then create a ring of meringue on the top edge of each circle creating a wall. Once you’ve finished, repeat the process until you have finished the whole sheet pan.
Once you have your piped shells finished, You are ready to place them in the oven to bake! Now since meringues are so delicate, it requires a very low oven temperature of 200 F. So really, you are drying the meringues more than baking them. Let them dry out for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Once they are done, do not take them out, simply turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool with the oven doors slightly open. I do this for maybe and hour or two or even overnight. This will ensure that the shells do not deflate, as they are still soft in the center and need further drying to stabilize.
Once your shells have cooled, you are ready to fill the centers with any desire Cream or mousse and garnish with fresh fruit or fruit sauce and serve!
If you want to make these ahead of time. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week or can be frozen for up to a month for future use.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as i do! It’s simple to do and so much fun! You might even find the piping to be somewhat therapeutic!! I know I do.
Happy baking everyone!