August 9, 2022

Basic Swiss Meringue

Basic Meringue made swiss style leads to a perfectly silky and fluffy meringue that can be used to make pavlovas, meringue cookies, and top any pie. 

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Basic Meringue made swiss style leads to a perfectly silky and fluffy meringue that can be used to make pavlovas, meringue cookies, and top any pie. 

 

swiss meringue

 

If you’ve been on this site for longer than, say, 20 seconds you’ve probably run into a recipe that has meringue. I make no apologies for my love of meringue. It is funny though, because some 7 years ago I thought it was the grossest thing ever. Why would I want to eat raw egg whites? And why did meringue always taste like, well, eggs?! Ugh! 

But my interest in learning to make those strange but gorgeous white things I’d see in bakeries won me over and ultimately I found myself whipping egg whites into oblivion about once a month. Even if, almost 8 times out of ten, I almost always failed. That is, until I found a method that suited me. 

And then I started finding ways to make it actually taste, well, really freaking good. Like, can I keep eating this delicious fluffiness forever please? And since then I’ve bombarded every reader of this blog and follower on any of my socials with so many meringues that one told me I should just change the name of this site. I’m not not considering it.  

Suffice to say, it’s time for me to impart my knowledge and method to you in the most basic form and allow you to run as wild as you want with meringue. 

 

What is Swiss Meringue and why make it? 

Let’s start with the basics; in its most basic form, meringue itself is whipped egg whites and sugar. The sugar is either added slowly (french) or all at once and heated (swiss). In both cases air is whipped into the mix to turn it 8x times the initial volume. You can also successfully make a vegan meringue with aquafaba (the liquid in a can of chickpeas). 

There are three ways to make a meringue: French, Swiss and Italian. The french is the most popular and my least favorite; as you whip egg whites you slowly pour in the sugar. In my experience, there is a higher risk of the sugar not dissolving with this method which leads to a broken, seeping meringue, so I try to avoid it. 

Italian meringue is a love of mine, but mainly for pie toppings. It’s made by combining sugar and a liquid together and boiling them to the sugar point of ‘candy’, then slowly adding this to whipping egg whites. There are so many ways to flavor Italian; some of my favorites are apple cider, pomegranate and cranberry. But because Italian has so much more water in it, it isn’t great for turning into meringue cookies or pavlovas. 

So for that I always recommend and use the swiss method: over a water bath the egg whites and sugar are gently heated and whisk until the sugar granules dissolve, then whipped into a billowy meringue. I find there is a lot less room for error, a particular step that almost ensures you won’t mess up and a close guarantee that you’ll have a bowl of fluff at the end. 

 

Ingredients for Basic Swiss Meringue 

Egg Whites: fresh egg whites (don’t use the cartons) with absolutely no bits of yellow in them. Eggs are easiest to separate from the yolks when they are cold. 

Sugar: fine granulated. But, you can make this with turbinado (grind it in a food processor) and even with brown sugar (but not fully – we’ll talk about it more soon). NOTE: you cannot make a sugar-free meringue and you should not reduce the amount of sugar; sugar is what keeps the meringue stable. 

Fine Sea Salt: will dissolve nicely into the meringue. Don’t use table salt. 

Vanilla: I like to use a lot of it, or two varieties. A freshly scraped vanilla bean adds lovely specks into the meringue as well as flavor, but even then you’ll want to emphasize the vanilla with pure extract. 

Stabilizers: you’ll see these if you are making pavlovas and they are usually cream of tartar or an acid (vinegar or lemon) and a starch (corn or tapioca). These will keep the inside of a pavlova soft so that it stays like a marshmallow, even as the crust around it sets into a crispy meringue. 

Keys to make the perfect basic swiss meringue 

  1. Clean bowl & whisk and egg whites ONLY: there should be no yolk bits and no grease leftover on any of the bowl or utensils used. Some suggest wiping the bowl with fresh cut lemon to remove grease. 
  2. Warm the sugar: over a double boiler, the bowl should not touch the water. 
  3. Ensure there’s no sugar granules before whipping: pinch the egg white and sugar mix to see how much sugar has dissolved. Stop warming/whisking when you can detect none. 
  4. Whip to just stiff peaks: once the meringue is thick and glossy you can turn the mixer off and check it by removing the whisk attachment and turning it upside down. As soon as you see no droop, stop. It helps to check it often so you don’t risk overwhipping without realizing it. 

 

swiss meringue

Flavoring basic swiss meringue 

Because you want to handle it as little as possible so as to not deflate all the air beaten into it, adding flavors is somewhat limited but there are ways to be creative about it: 

Freeze dried fruits: grind freeze dried strawberries, raspberries, or mango in a food processor then sift about 1-2 tablespoons of powder the mix over the meringue after it’s fully whisked and fold it in with a rubber spatula. Blueberries need a very fine mesh sieve to get just the powdery bits. 

Cocoa: I like using dutch process for this and per 4 egg whites will add 1 ½ tablespoons cocoa. 

Extracts: Lemon, mint, almond, etc. can all be added toward the end of whipping. 

 

Basic Swiss Meringue ratios 

You’ll note that all my meringue recipes follow a specific formula: for every egg white I add ¼ cup granulated sugar. This gives us a near 1:1 weight ratio in terms of egg white and sugar. Here’s a quick overview: 

2 egg whites (½ cup sugar) will be enough meringue to cover a small batch of brownies or blondies or a small batch of curd bars.

3 egg whites (¾ cups sugar) will be enough to cover a pie 

4-5 egg whites (1 – 1 ¼ cups sugar) will generously cover a pie and make 5 mini pavlovas 

6 egg whites (1 ½ cups sugar) will make enough for a pavlova 

 

basic swiss meringue

Torching and Baking Swiss Meringue 

For a pie topping: it’s best to use a kitchen torch to toast the top of the meringue. 

Now I’m going to be annoying and not give you actual baking times for meringues/pavlovas because this will depend on: how big or small you’ve scooped the meringue/pavlovas and how hot or cold your oven runs. I will however, give you an overview and tell you what clues to look for. Also remember: bake the meringue immediately, it shouldn’t sit on the counter at all as it will start to stiffen. 

 

For meringue cookies: in a preheated oven, 225 F, bake for about an hour; they are done when the shell is firm and you can easily lift them from the parchment paper. After you’ve turned off the oven, leave them in there to cool for another hour. 

For baking times for pavlovas, I go by Nigella’s instructions: preheat the oven to 350  and then lower to 300, bake the pavlova for 1 hour. When the shell is firm and it gently lifts from the parchment, it’s done. Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in there overnight or for at least a few hours. 

Mini pavlovas, like these chocolate pavlovas, should bake for about 30 minutes (oven preheated to 350 then lowered to 300 when the pavlovas go in) then be left in the oven after you’ve shut it off for at least an hour. 

All of these should be taken as general guides because it will depend on how hot or cold your oven runs, how big or small you’ve scooped or piped the meringue. 

 

Potential problems with Swiss Meringue and what could’ve caused them 

  1. Seeping: if making a pavlova or meringues and liquid seeps out as they are cooking or cooling then the mix was either overwhipped or underbaked. 
  2. Textured/pebble like bits after whipping: this means the sugar wasn’t fully dissolved when warmed. Those bits of sugar will melt in the oven, seep and leave droplets on the meringue and pan.
  3. Cracking: some cracks on a pavlova are fine (they are rather rustic imo) but you don’t want too many. If your baked meringue is cracking it’s likely overwhipped or was baked too high too quickly. My oven does this oven as it runs hot. 
  4. Yellowing: this is also a result of overbaking, for too long or at too high a temperature.
  5. Softening: You baked a meringue to what you thought was perfection but then the cookies went all soft; you didn’t bake it enough. This could also be a result of general kitchen humidity (but that one is out of our control).

Basic Swiss Meringue

A very basic recipe for swiss meringue to help you make pie toppings, meringue cookies and pavlovas.

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 220 g caster or fine granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean scraped
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • If making a pavlova add: 2 teaspoons corn or tapioca starch and 1 teaspoon vinegar.

Method

  • You need a heatproof bowl and a pot filled ⅓ full with water; the bowl should be able to sit on top of the pan without touching the water. Do not put the bowl on top of the pot yet.
  • Bring the water to a simmer. Set the egg whites in the bowl then grab a whisk and pour the sugar in, whisking as you do. Whisk until it’s fully mixed then place over the simmering water.
  • Whisk constantly, alternating between slow and quick, as the bowl warms then the egg mix warms. Switch to a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl so all the mix is at the bottom (otherwise those sugar granules sticking to the sides will not dissolve and will go into your meringue).
  • Lift the spatula, dragging some of the egg up so it pours down and, between two fingers, pinch some that’s falling back into the pot. This is to check on the sugar and see if you can detect any sugar granules.
  • After about 4-5 minutes, you should be able to do this and not detect any sugar granules, remove it from the heat and pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer. Affix the whisk attachment and begin whipping on low, gradually increasing speed to medium high (about a 6 on a kitchenaid). Whip for about 10 minutes, checking once the meringue looks thick and glossy. Add the vanilla and salt after about 7 minutes, while the mixer is on.
  • To check it, remove the whisk and turn it upside down: does the meringue droop or hold its shape? Once it holds stiff it is done. If you are adding cocoa or berry powder, stop before it’s completely stiff and sift the powder in then use a rubber spatula to gently fold the powder in until it’s mostly incorporated.
    swiss meringue

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