25 January 2008
The other day I made meringue again, this time using the Swiss method, which according to my Larousse Gastronomique, is the preferred method by professional chefs as it is stable enough to last a few hours in the fridge.
The method is to mix the sugar and egg whites together over a water bath, i. e. a bain-marie or a double boiler. This sounded a bit complicated to me, but it's not, in fact the mixing of the meringue works so well, it's quite fun and I immediately decided to never make any French meringue ever again.
This time I also made a few changes to my recipe and now I realise despite my impulsive decision, that I have to give French meringue one more chance. This time I used a stainless steel pot for the mixing. From researching on the Internet, a copper bowl is the ultimate to use as there is some fine chemical reaction between the egg whites and the copper that makes the meringue more stable and that stainless steel is the best substitute for this. You may be able to get away with glass bowls, but definitely not plastic ones, as despite thorough washing, there tend to be some small residues of fat which ruin the meringue.
The other thing I changed was that I used caster sugar (as most recipes recommend) rather than icing sugar. I was surprised that it did dissolve, I'd expected it to remain in small crystals.
The third change was to separate the egg whites and leave them on the kitchen top for about an hour and a half to bring them up to room temperature, apparently that also optimises the meringue stability.
I used 2.5 dl caster sugar to 3 large egg whites and whisked them together on the lowest setting of my electrical whisk, while heating up the water in my bigger pot. It went foamy white fairly quickly, so I put the small pot into the larger one (and thus forming my bain-marie), while still whisking.
I had the hob on quite low and the water never actually came to simmering point, just to be on the safe side, I did rotate the small pot to avoid heat pockets where the egg whites may cook into a solid lump.
I kept whisking on the lowest level throughout and the mixture went very stiff. The idea is to get the whites cooked, but also in a foam and this provides the stability.
Once the foam was very stiff, I took out the small pot from the larger one and filled up the piping bag and got to work, it was a joy, the meringue kept it's shape!
Unfortunately, 3 egg whites resulted in three baking sheets full of rosette squirts of meringue and it was getting late in the evening on a school night, so I put two in the main oven and one in the grill/oven. At half-time I swapped the two in the main oven around, as I don't have the fan functionality to spread the heat evenly. At this point the top ones had gone a bit rosy. At the end of the hour, I switched off and left everything to cool in the oven.
The next morning, when I took them out and was about to put them in a box, I found it was impossible, they were extremely sticky. Though tasty and Lundulph thought too. So I put them back in the cooker and did a second session of a few hours when I got back home, I forgot all about them. When I switched the cooker off, they all seemed to have dried nicely. This wasn't quite true, there was still some stickiness in most of them this morning, but it was possible to move them to a box. Not for giving away, but we'll make sure they don't go off.
Hot tips for next time is to use the slow cooking setting, which should be even lower than gas mark 1. Possibly leave the meringues on overnight and on the lower level in the oven. Possibly also with a baking sheet on one of the higher levels, to prevent the meringues from going brown.
Anyway, the rescue mission sort of worked. Taste-wise, these meringues didn't taste as sweet as the French ones I've made before, which does make sense since I used caster sugar this time, so per volume it's less than icing sugar.