April 17, 2011

the unbearable lightness of meringue

On an earlier post I mentioned whipping heavy cream in order to make whipped cream. Heavy cream, as you may know, is liquid. Whipped cream, on the other hand, is very much not. The difference between the two is all in the whipping, or the incorporation of air, something I still can't think of as anything but a miracle.

making meringue

Meringue is another one of these miracles. Whipped egg whites and sugar, basically. My first experience was on Pi Day, when I made lemon meringue pie at the behest of my roommate Daniel. I was so enthused at this first encounter that I literally whipped the egg whites and powdered sugar into meringue with my bare hands, which was a great arm-workout. (Turns out this type of meringue is French meringue.)

lemon meringue pie

Luckily I haven't tried this in the bake shop. With the sizes of the batches we do, my arm would just as well fall off.

As it turns out, I've made Italian meringue (for Italian buttercream) when I poured sugar syrup (boiled to 240F, or the softball stage, more on that eventually) into the whipping egg whites.

pouring sugar into meringue
(It being buttercream, butter was later added, then whipped cream - who would've thought?!)

And as it turns out, I've also made Swiss meringue (for mousse cake, my crowning achievement in Cakes and Tarts because it's complicated and requires the use of gelatin and Chef said I wouldn't have time to make it but I did anyway). The sugar is incorporated into the egg whites with the use of a double boiler/bain marie (so basically they were mixed in a bowl that was being heated by the steam from boiling water). And then whipped by a KitchenAid mixer until they achieved stiff peaks (the longer you whip, the stiffer the peaks, although I think it's possible to overwhip).

swiss meringue

Such a beautiful miracle. Because just think, that was once just egg whites and sugar.

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