Hot Mess: On Cloud Nine
You know that dream where you’re eating a giant marshmallow and when you wake up you realize it’s your pillow? For some of us, this dream is not just in sporadic occurrence. For those of us whose favorite part of the s’more is the gooey marshmallow filling and who like whipped cream a little too much on our sundaes, there is a quick dessert that is the best of both worlds- a white, fluffy mound of heaven that will seduce and completely satisfy any sweet tooth. You can use it to frost cakes, top off pies, garnish ice cream, or just eat it straight from the bowl, one glorious spoonful at a time.
I’m talking about meringue- a sweetened egg white fluff that when made properly has the consistency of an airy whipped cream and the subtle, yet distinct, taste of a campfire marshmallow. It’s easy to make and so quick that it can be made after dinner in less time than it would take to clear the table. Typically, meringue is thought to only be a part of lemon meringue pies or baked into crispy little cookies. However, as with any thing in the food world, it has many different uses and many different techniques to make it.
To explain this process, or any process involving egg whites better , there is some terminology to define. Egg whites, of course, are the clear portion of a raw egg. They must be separated from the yolk and in any recipes requiring the separation of yolk from white, it is crucial that none of the yolk gets in with the white. If this happens, the egg whites will not whip properly.
When it comes to whipping egg whites, recipes will use the descriptions of “soft” or “stiff” peaks to describe the texture of the whip. You can test this by pulling the beaters directly out of bowl and looking to see how the whipped egg whites fall. Soft peaks mean the mixture will curl back into itself when the beaters are lifted, stiff peaks means the egg whites will stand straight up in the bowl. It is very important not to overbeat the egg whites or they will break apparent and deflate. It is just as important to not under-beat the eggs or the meringue will be soupy, eggy, and dense.
Some recipes just have you whip egg whites and add just enough sugar to form stiff peaks. These meringues are foamy, fluffy and barely sweet. Because there is so little sugar, the mixture also still has an egg flavor, which some may find unappealing. Some recipes have you melt the sugar into the egg whites before you whip them. I’ve seen this technique used in Swiss meringue butter cream recipes and will produce a heavily sweet and fluffy meringue, though if you are not careful you can very easily cook the egg whites while trying to melt the sugar, and in this manner I reserve this technique only for frostings.
My favorite technique creates a glossy, slightly heavier meringue that is as creamy as it is sweet. To make it, the egg whites are separated into a bowl and whipped to soft peaks. In a small sauce pan, white sugar, corn syrup and a little water are melted together
and cooked until the mixture bubbles. For more exact measurement, you’ll want to consult a recipe, but as long as you stick to a general ratio, it doesn’t matter too much. For two egg whites I like to use around 1/3 cup of sugar, 2 to 3 tablespoons of corn syrup, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. After heating, the syrup should be bubbling and its consistency that of melted maple syrup. If the syrup seems too thick or begins to crystallize, add a little more water, stir and continue to heat for a few more seconds. You don’t want to the syrup to harden to a candy when it cools or you’re meringue will have chunks of sugar pieces in it. With one hand still beating the egg whites on medium high- high, slowly drizzle in the hot syrup. The egg whites will thicken, inflate a little more, and turn solid white. After adding all the syrup, continuing beating until the mixture is thick and glossy and the texture reaches stiff peaks. If you’re daring, you can test this by turning the bowl upside down. If nothing falls out, it’s ready.
The entire process of making this meringue takes about five minutes from start to finish, and after that, the fun part becomes finding ways to use it. Although I never tire from eating it straight from the bowl, it is great as light, marshmallow-like topping for my hot fudge brownie sundae. I also love with ripe peaches, sliced bananas, and if you’re looking for something to impress your significant other, there’s nothing sexier than a crisp white meringue against tart red berries.
In my world, there is nothing better than meringue. It’s sweet, creamy, sensual, and versatile. In five minutes you’re in a dessert heaven so fantastic that you’ll never have to chew on your pillow again.