When most of us think of meringue, we think of the poufy, soft white stuff on top of a lemon or chocolate pie filling. That kind of meringue is Lovely and certainly has its place, but there's a lot more to a humble meringue than meets the eye.
I recently posted about garnishes for desserts and how it's Desirable to have several textures and temperatures on a plate. Meringue can fit that bill nicely, because depending on how you Deal with It, it can have a texture of anywhere from crispy to crunchy to chewy to poufy.
So, for your Edification I present to you:
Ways that You Might Not Think of to Use Meringue
Oh, before I start listing ideas, the basic ratio for a thick and stable meringue is one part egg whites to two parts sugar, by weight. So, for every one ounce of whites, you'll need 2 oz. of sugar. There are also a few types of meringue. A French meringue is the simplest to make: whip whites until frothy, add sugar a bit at a time and whip until thick and glossy. A Swiss meringue is basically the same thing, but you heat the whites and sugar together over a hot water bath to dissolve the sugar before whipping to thick, glossy peaks. An Italian meringue is the most stable of the three types of meringue, because it is made with a sugar syrup heated to 240F. When you drizzle the hot sugar syrup into your whipping egg whites, the heat cooks the whites.
If you have Issues with Weeping Meringue when you use it as a pie topping, make an Italian meringue instead of a French meringue et voilà: no more weeping or shrinking.
Okay, now here's the list. Feel free to add to it:
- Make a simple meringue, spread it out in a thin layer in a Silpat-lined baking sheet and bake it at 200F until firm. Let cool, break into shards and use as garnish. You can also flavor this with a little lemon or lime juice. Maybe mix in some minced mint or other herb that goes with whatever you're serving.
- Take your shards from Idea #1, crumble them up and top or fold into ice cream or whipped cream for added texture. It'll start off as little crispy bites and slowly turn into little chewy bites. Either way, it's yummy.
- While you can make marshmallows without egg whites, you can also stabilize a meringue with gelatin to make them. Once they're set, you can toast them before putting them on the plate--or just leave them the way they are. Marshmallows can be flavored in all sorts of ways by whipping in a little extract, spices and/or liqueur. David Lebovitz has a good recipe for meringue marshmallows.
- For individual plating, or for a Big Old Dessert for that matter, swirl on some Italian meringue and then hit it with a torch to brown. It's cooked through, so Italian meringue is the safest for folks who are concerned about eating raw (or raw-ish) eggs.
- Fold very finely ground nuts into a meringue and pipe onto Silpat. Bake at 300F until golden and crisp all the way through. When you fold nuts into meringue, you end up with dacquoise. Pipe them to use as crunchy layers in a layered dessert, or pipe them in Keen Shapes and use as garnish.
- Fold mini chocolate chips into meringue, pipe into "kisses" and bake in a very low oven to make wee Meringue Kiss Cookies.
And there you have it. Happy Meringue, people. Doo-lang, doo-lang, doo-lang.