Everything you need to know about meringue

Everything you need to know about Meringue is here! Meringue is mostly known in French, Italian and Swiss cuisines and are made by whisking egg whites with sugar. The mixture can be baked for several hours so that it is gently baked and holds its shape. Home made meringues are crisp on the outside with a soft center, whilst commercially made meringues are crispy throughout. Many people shy away from making their own meringues but like so many other culinary challenges, there is a knack to learn and once you have mastered it, the result is truly delicious! Everything you need to know about meringue is included in this article!

What is the history of Meringue?

There are various stories about the origins of meringue, but the most popular, tells of a Swiss pastry chef called Gasparini who in 1720 discovered how to make meringues. He used numerous small meringues – that he formed using two small spoons – to decorate an array of desserts including ice creams, mousse and fruit.

Today there are three main different types of meringues. They are all made using egg whites and sugar – with a few differences in technique.

Types of Meringue

  • French
  • Italian
  • Swiss
  • French
  • Italian
  • Swiss

🇫🇷 French

This meringue is the most usual type of meringue and is made by whisking egg whites until the mixture stands in stiff peaks. Sugar is then slowly whisked in. Once all the sugar has been added, the meringue is whisked for a few more moments until it is silky and glossy to look at.

🇮🇹 Italian

Italian meringue is the most complex meringue to make as it involves a little sugar cookery, but, having said that, it is well worth the effort as it is a lovely stable meringue to work with. Italian meringue is made by whisking the egg whites until they form soft peaks and then whisking in a hot sugar syrup  (121º C/ 250ºF). Lemon juice or cream of tartar is often added as this will make the mixture very stable.

🇨🇭 Swiss

Swiss meringue is made in the same way as French meringue, but once the sugar has been whisked in, the meringue mixture is then placed in a bain-marie (similar to a double boiler). The meringue is then heated to 75ºC (170ºF) and tested with a sugar thermometer before it is removed from the heat.

The meringue is then whisked again to form soft peaks and vanilla essence or vanilla paste is sometimes added. Whisking continues until the meringue is glossy and forming soft, medium or stiff peaks -whichever is desired. It is important to remember that because it is made in a different way, Swiss meringue is not as light and voluminous as French meringue and tastes like the softest marshmallow. 

Popular Desserts with Meringue

Meringue can be used to create some stunning looking puddings and cakes that taste every bit as good as they look. A number of the most popular puddings have interesting histories too.

The Lemon Meringue Pie for example, was created in the early 19th century in America’s first cookery school, whilst Baked Alaska was created by the chef at Antoine’s in New Orleans to mark the acquisition of Alaska by the United States from Russia on 10 March 1867. Eton Mess is a tasty combination of meringues, strawberries and cream, that was first served in 1893 to spectators at the cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School.   

In 1926 The first meringue-based Pavlova was served in the Wellington Hotel in New Zealand. It was made to celebrate the tour to Australia and New Zealand by the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.

Lemon pie with Italian Meringue
This is a lemon pie with Italian Meringue

In France, without a doubt, the most popular meringues are the small multi-colored macarons which are a national favorite Macarons were first made by the Italian chef working for Catherine de Medici who was Queen in France from 1547 to 1559. The macarons are made from egg white and sugar, with the addition of ground almonds and food coloring.

FAQs: Everything you need to know about meringue

How can you use Meringue in baking?

Once you have mastered making meringue you will find it really versatile as  it can be used for the topping for pies and tarts. The key to success is that the more sugar used in the recipe, the crisper the meringue, and less sugar produces a softer meringue. Meringue can also be successfully used as a topping for a cake rather than icing or buttercream. If you are making a cake for a special occasion, the traditional icing to use is Royal Icing and this is made using a soft meringue mixture in the early stages.

There are so many lovely recipes to try including floating islands which are spoonfuls of fluffy meringue in a pool of creamy custard sauce and meringue nests that can be filled with whipped cream and soft fruit. The usual accompaniment to crisp meringues is whipped cream, although you can make a flavored buttercream to sandwich small meringues together instead.  

Can meringue cookies be gluten free, sugar free and vegan?

Traditionally made meringues with egg white and sugar are gluten free. Even if you are making an Italian-style meringue that needs cream of tartar, the dish can still be enjoyed by those on a gluten free diet.

Making meringues without sugar sounds quite a challenge as sugar is one of the main ingredients, but it can be successfully done – which is great news for those on the Keto, paleo or low sugar diets. The secret is to use inulin (made from chicory root) as the sweetener and powdered erythritol. For every two egg whites you will need 40g inulin and 30g powdered erythritol. The result is great – tasty, crispy low-carb meringues or the perfect Eton Mess!

English dessert Eton Moss
English dessert Eton Mess

If you want to enjoy meringues but are vegan, the good news is that meringues can be made using the water strained from a can of chickpeas (aquafaba) that is then whisked with sugar. The process is easy but it does take about ten minutes to whisk the meringue mixture enough to hold its shape. The effort is well worth it and the meringues can be enjoyed with fruit and soy cream. 

Many home cooks keep a tub of meringue powder in the pantry as this can be used at short notice. If you are planning to serve it to people with dietary needs, it is best to check the ingredients panel as it can contain corn starch.

Meringue in a bowl with a whisker -everything you need to know about meringue
Meringue ready to bake

Can your freeze meringue?

If you have any spare meringues or a cake with a meringue topping, both can be successfully frozen for up to one month in the freezer. This is best done using a rigid airtight freezer container and layering the meringues between sheets of parchment paper or wrapping the cake so that it is airtight.

The key to success is to defrost the meringues very carefully, ensuring that there is no chance for them to absorb any moisture as this will soften them.

Egg whites can be very successfully frozen – so this is the perfect way to store any spare egg whites. The egg whites can be successfully frozen individually in an ice cube tray.

Final tips about meringue

Meringues can be easily bought in many cake shops, patisseries and supermarkets. Store meringues definitely taste good until you have tasted home made meringues! If you have never made meringues, why not try making some classic French meringues to begin with? The best tips of all are to use parchment paper to ensure the meringues do not stick and not to open the oven door until the meringues have cooled completely or else they will crack. In both cases, it is only the look of the meringues that is impacted – they still taste really good!

Check out our recipe: How to make Italian Meringue – We Desserts

Check out our recipe: How to make French Meringue Cookies – We Desserts