Crunchy meringues. Something magical happens while glossy peaks of meringue slowly dry out in the heat of the oven that makes the cookie give way with a crunch before dissolving into sweet nothingness on your tongue. This perfection eluded me for ages until some three or so weeks ago when I shared with you crispy crunchy meringues.
Since then, I’ve been asked about other possibilities that include making these with agave nectar instead of honey as well as flavourings and variants such as chocolate chip. (We’ll get to that soon; I’m working on it.)
For purposes of making meringue SCD, I found that it’s best to make Italian meringue in which a hot syrup is added to softly whipped egg whites and beaten till stiff. It’s choice for those who are following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) or are avoiding refined sugar in general and use honey as a sweetener.
I’ve tried making meringue with honey in its natural state and have not had exactly satisfactory results with it as honey is a humectant, which means that it holds moisture. Honey is also heavier than whipped egg whites and it would make it difficult to sufficiently fold it in without fear of deflating the egg whites.
In my recipe, the meringue is made with a hot syrup using just honey and water and pouring that into soft peak egg whites, beating until stiff. Italian meringue is similar to candy making, specifically marshmallows, so it is more involved and needs precision. Despite being more involved, however, its execution is easy.
The original article I wrote on this – which I mentioned in passing in my first meringue post – was simply a piece that expounded on science. I delayed it initially by a week, tweeting that I wanted to add more photos and possibly video, if I could; things got in the way, though, but I’m glad they did because it allowed me to further tweak the article and sit on it to make it informative while at the same timeshow what I was explaining by incorporating the science into an instructional and informative how-to, which I am now presenting to you. Basically, as if I were personally showing you how to make this while explaining the science. Think Harold McGee or Alton Brown.
(While the old format was fine, it was heavy on text and I’m not writing an essay anytime soon on the topic of meringue.)
Implemented with the instructions for making meringue are the scientific explanations in italics – which I also hope should answer anyone’s questions that they have had about the process and add ease, especially for those who have made the crispy crunchy meringue cookies recipe before.
There are many variable factors in what can make a meringue rock or flop that even include weather conditions (it’s generally recommended that meringue is made on a dry day) but once you have mastered meringue, you can make a whole range of meringue-based desserts including pavlova, macarons, marshmallows (that use egg whites); use it as topping for a pie such as lemon meringue, make buttercream and seven-minute frosting…the list goes on. One thing’s for sure, knowing how to make meringue is a skill that’s sure to impress.
For video, I’ve embedded both Vimeo and YouTube. Both work well, although you may wish to watch the YouTube embed if you are viewing this on a mobile device and depending on what it does or does not support. (I’m not sure if Vimeo has a mobile option or not.)
The recipe we’re using is the same one that I blogged back in January. Instructions follow after the video.
- small pot to cook the syrup in
- a candy thermometer
- large stainless steel bowl and balloon whisk to whip the egg whites if you’re doing this by hand like me, or a stand mixer or electric hand mixer with a whisk attachment.
A candy thermometer is not 100% necessary as there are those who have used the soft ball test without a thermometer, but I don’t recommend you do this unless you are experienced in candy making and or have made meringue this way before.
[The only imprecise measurement you’ll see here is for the honey. After years of baking, I’ve come to generally eyeball the amount of honey in a recipe. If you do measure it with a measuring implement (either a dry or liquid measuring cup is fine, in my case) be sure to grease it first or spray with some oil so that the honey slides out easily and without any mess.]
Cook about 1/2 cup honey [see head note in italics] and 1/3 cup water, without stirring, in a small pot over medium heat until it reaches 235 to 240 degrees (hard ball stage) on a candy thermometer. This is your hot syrup. Absolutely do not increase the heat to speed up the process or if you think that it’s taking too long to cook or will not reach the correct temperature; even a slight increase in heat will cause the honey’s sugar structure to dissolve too quickly. It has to dissolve and cook slowly.
Once the syrup has reached 225ºF, beat 2 large egg whites with a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon ice cold water to soft peaks.
The water is not completely necessary to making meringue, however adding a small amount causes an increase in volume as the hydrophillic (water-loving) amino acids become attracted to the extra water as the egg whites’ protein structure is stretched. (Eggs are made of eighty to ninety per cent water, give or take as percentage varies among sources, and complex proteins and ten per cent fat.)
This is possible because of an egg’s cell structure of long chains of amino acids that are hydrophobic (water-repelling) and hydrophillic (water-loving), respectively. When the egg whites are beaten, as they start to foam the protein structure of the whites start to uncurl and stretch, revealing these amino acids and a furious battle occurs in which the hydrophilic amino acids are attracted to the protein and as these molecules get closer to each other, the water molecules shove out the hydrophobic amino acids.
Also by adding a small amount of water, the egg whites transform into a frothy foam more quickly than those without added water.
When the syrup is done, remove from heat and immediately pour into the soft peak egg whites in a slow, steady stream while continuing to whip the egg whites at the same time. If you’re doing this by hand, at this stage it would be helpful to have someone pour the syrup in while you whip it in the egg whites.
Once all the syrup has been poured in, continue whipping the egg whites until stiff and glossy and has cooled to room temperature. It should have a marshmallow-y thickness. Stiff peak egg whites should hold and retain their shape. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and rapidly beat for about 2 more minutes. If done properly, this meringue is slow to start weeping. (If it starts weeping, should it arrive at that point, just use the same whisk to beat back into shape.)
Recipes on Z’s Cup of Tea so far that use meringue: