I don’t know about you, but in this nook of the world, we’re about to be swallowed whole by the sweltering, sticky heat of summer. Thank goodness there’s Popsicle Week to the rescue! …
It’s hard to deny the pull of summer on all the senses: the heat beating down during the day, the cool relief of the evening breeze, the sweat, the stickiness, the fat slices of melon and the ripe peaches, the abundance at the market stands, the sudden bloom of the peonies. Each of these brings joy, but for me, the greatest joy of all is that it is finally, finally ice cream season.
At the close of this seemingly neverending sky-slush season, let me just say: thank goodness for rhubarb. Seriously.
There’s something about those rosy stalks with their bright green leaves that are just inherently cheerful. I’ve been buying it by the armful this past month, and complete strangers on the street, when they saw the stalks poking out of my bag, smiled at me or gave me a nod. Seems like I’m not the only one who considers them a harbinger of spring.
Another Tuesday is upon us, so that means it’s time to get our learning on! This week, I thought I’d focus on a classic nemesis for the beginner baker: meringues.
There are a variety of different types of meringues (Swiss, Italian, and French being the most common), which use different techniques to yield slightly different results. But no matter which technique you go with, there are certain pitfalls that come with meringue-making that they all have in common. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure that no matter which path you choose, you’re bound to have success:
Humidity is your enemy:
There is, unfortunately, no way around this unless you’re working in a climate-controlled kitchen. Sugar (which makes up a hefty portion of any meringue recipe) is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture; the more moisture in the air, the more your meringues are going to suffer. Humid days can result in egg whites that refuse to reach stiff peaks, and meringues that ooze, crack, or refuse to fully dry out, no matter how long you bake them. Your best bet is honestly to avoid making them on humid days, unless your kitchen has an A/C unit that keeps it cool and dry indoors.
Use fresh-cracked egg whites:
Egg whites from the carton come pasteurized, which is handy if you’re using them in some uncooked capacity (for example, a whipped meringue topping for pie which is bruleed on the outside but raw on the inside). But carton-packed whites make terrible meringues. Do yourself a favour and use whites from freshly-cracked eggs instead (and then you can use the yolks to make ice cream, lemon curd, or custard later).
Get your whites to room temperature:
Chilled egg whites won’t whip up as well as room temperature ones. If you’ve forgotten to take them out of the fridge in time, whisk them in a large, heatproof mixing bowl set over a small pot of gently simmering water, just until they’re no longer cold to the touch. Be careful not to take your eye off of them, or they might accidentally cook! (If this happens, throw some salt and pepper on them, whip up a salad, and enjoy a very virtuous lunch.)
Seriously clean your bowl and whisk:
Grease is another enemy of the meringue, so take extra pains to make sure your whisk and bowl are clean before you use them. Even if you’ve washed them previously, wipe them down with a tablespoon of white vinegar and paper towel. Allow to dry completely (another paper towel will help) before beginning.
No yolks about it:
Ironically enough, egg yolks are another enemy of successful meringue-making, even if their whites are a crucial component of the process. To make sure you don’t end up with any yolks in your whisking bowl, separate your eggs one at a time over two smaller bowls. You can either pass the yolk back and forth across the halved shells, or gently crack over your open (clean!) hand, allowing the whites to pass through your fingers.
Use a stabilizer:
Common stabilizers include cornstarch and cream of tartar. Add them to your egg whites before you begin whisking them, and they will help your meringues maintain their shape.
Low & slow:
Meringues don’t like to be rushed, and are often cooked at temperatures as low as 200F-250F for an hour or more, then they are allowed to cool in the oven, with the door cracked slightly. This gentle baking is meant to prevent your meringues from browning too quickly, or from the outer shells over-baking before the insides have a chance to dry out completely. Cooling them in the oven after baking prevents them from developing cracks due to the shock of a major temperature change.
Ready to get baking? Check out these Apricot Curd Lemon Basil Meringues.