Meringue is a type of dessert made with whipped egg whites and sugar and often is flavored with vanilla and a small amount of almond or coconut extract which is light, airy and sweet. Meringue is a simple recipe and few recipes call for adding a binding agent such as cream of tartar or cornstarch found in icing sugar.
The notion that meringue was invented in the Swiss town of Meiringen by an Italian chef named Gasparini is contested. It is more probable that the name meringue for this confection first appeared in print in François Massialot's cookbook of 1692. The word meringue first appeared in English in 1706 in an English translation of Massialot's book.
Two considerably earlier seventeenth-century English manuscript books of recipes give instructions for confections that are recognizable as meringue, though called "white biskit bread" in the book of recipes started in 1604 by Lady Elinor Fettiplace (c. 1570 - c. 1647) of Appleton in Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire), or called "pets" in the manuscript of collected recipes written by Lady Rachel Fane (1612/13 - 1680), of Knole, Kent.
Slowly baked meringues are still referred to as "pets" (meaning farts in French) in the Loire region in France due to their light and fluffy texture. There are many different types of meringue which are sweetened, uncooked beaten egg whites that form the islands of floating island or the partly cooked toppings of lemon meringue pie and other meringue topped desserts etc.
Meringue is made basically by beating together room temperature egg whites and sugar in either a crystalline or syrup form. There are different types of meringue: soft or ordinary or European meringues such as French, Italian and Swiss. French meringue (hard meringue) has a delicate texture making it perfect for delicate desserts.
They can also be piped into mushroom shaped meringue or dessert shells and hardened by baking. These are used to decorate the traditional Christmas cake – Buche de Noel or Yule Log. Italian Meringue is soft and cooked more than the Swiss meringue making it the most stable type.
They are generally used for cake frosting such as Italian butter-cream or folded into whipped cream and are good for making Baked Alaska. Swiss Meringue has a firmer texture than French meringue and is perfect to use for making decorations or bases for desserts.
They can be baked until crisp and dry in a pie plate filled with custard and fruits (Angel pie). Meringue may be used for decoration. It can be formed into whimsical shapes, like mushrooms, or piped into a crisp basket that is baked and filled later with cake, fruit, or flowers.
To prepare the meringues, preheat the oven to 200 degree F (95 degree C). Butter and flour a baking sheet. In a glass or metal bowl, whip egg whites until foamy using an electric mixer. Sprinkle in sugar a little at a time, while continuing to whip at medium speed.
When the mixture becomes stiff and shiny like satin, stop mixing and transfer the mixture to a large pastry bag. Pipe the meringue out onto the prepared baking sheet using a large round tip or star tip. Place the meringues in the oven and place a wooden spoon handle in the door to keep it from closing all the way.
Bake for 3 hours or until the meringues are dry and can easily be removed from the pan. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature. Meringue can be used as the basis for various other desserts including angel food cake, Baked Alaska, Queen of Puddings, and lemon meringue pie.
In these cases, the meringue may be cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time, resulting in a soft meringue with slightly browned peaks on top. So next time you think of planning to bake a cake, do prepare the meringues and decorate them well to keep your kids delightful.
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When beating egg whites, they are classified in three stages according to the peaks they form when the beater is lifted: soft, firm, and stiff peaks. Meringue is a fat-free food, because the presence of even small amounts of fat before the meringue is baked causes the beaten egg whites to collapse. The principal nutritional components are high-quality protein from the egg whites and simple carbohydrates from the refined sugar.