Meringues aren't difficult to get right but there are a few simple rules to try to follow to avoid things going horribly wrong.....
- Everything must be spotlessly clean - no traces of grease in the bowl or mixing utensils
- Use a glass or metal bowl rather than plastic
- Eggs whites should ideally be at room temperature
- Separate the whites carefully - even the smallest amount of yolk can cause problems
- Use an electric whisk and judge the time carefully
- Low and slow ...... a very low oven temperature and a long time cooking
There's an awful lot of chemistry and science involved in making the perfect meringue. If you are interested then Google "meringue and chemistry" to learn how protein strands, copper bowls and acids, to name just a few variables, can affect how egg whites whisk up. Some recipes suggest adding vinegar, cornflour, cream of tartar, icing sugar or salt to the basic mix of egg white and caster sugar.
I don't add anything - just keep things simple..........any multiple of 2 egg whites plus about 125g caster sugar depending on the size of the egg.
- Carefully separate the egg whites into a clean bowl
- Whisk until the mixture is at the soft peak stage
- Slowly, and in small quantities, start whisking in the sugar
- Continue whisking until the mixture looks and feels glossy and thick
- The mixture should be stiff and the peaks hold their shape
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper
- Pipe or spoon onto a baking tray (the mixture will not rise or spread)
- Depending on the shape and size cook for 2+ hours on a low temperature*
* Is it an urban myth or has anyone ever 'cooked' meringues in an airing cupboard? I've never had an airing cupboard, or an oven swanky enough to have a plate warming section, so my top tip is to make the meringues late at night and leave them to 'cook' overnight in an oven on a very low temperature - no higher than 100°C. Rather than cooking the aim is to dry them out without colouring them too much. In the morning switch the oven off and leave the meringues to cool completely. They can then be stored in an airtight container for quite a few weeks.
Meringues are so simple yet so versatile. You can 'whip up' a pudding at short notice, assuming your secret stash of meringues has not been found and eaten, and create a stunning summer fruit pavlova, individual nests with strawberries and butterscotch sauce or broken up in Eton Mess. I make hundreds of tiny bite size swirls, wrap them in cellophane bags tied up with ribbon and give them as gifts to my sons, nephews and nieces - they love them.......