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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.
Today: Alice shares her secrets to perfect meringue -- a dessert so spectacularly simple, you'll have everybody fooled.
Meringues are easy to make and quite impressive to most people (who don’t know how easy they are to make). They keep for several weeks in an airtight container and you can use them to assemble countless desserts at the drop of a hat -- by piling them with berries (or sliced peaches, or bananas, or pineapple) and whipped cream, or ice cream and sauce, or any or all of the above. The variations are endless and effortlessly spectacular.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Don’t make meringues when the kitchen is super steamy or the weather is damp and humid.
2. Egg whites should be perfectly “clean”, without a speck of yolk in them. Older egg whites work even better than fresh ones, so you can (and should) accumulate leftover egg whites in a clean (grease-free) covered jar in the fridge, where they will keep for up to 2 weeks. Each large egg white is about 2 tablespoons, so if a recipe calls for 4 egg whites, just measure out 1/2 cup. You can also freeze egg whites in an ice cube tray -- one white per cube -- and bag them once they are frozen; defrost as needed.
3. Egg whites beat to a great volume at room temperature or slightly warm. Simply set the bowl of cold egg whites in another bowl of hot tap water, or swirl the bowl over a burner flame, until they are at room temperature or slightly warm, to the touch.
4. Beat egg whites in a clean (grease-free), dry, stainless or glass -- not plastic -- bowl, with clean beaters.
5. Regular granulated sugar works well for most meringue, but superfine is best for pavlova (that yummy, gooey, marshmallowy meringue with a crunchy crust). You can make your own superfine sugar by spinning regular granulated sugar in a food processor until it feels a little powdery.
6. Finally, the rule that most cooks don’t know: for the fluffiest, stiffest, and most voluminous meringue, don’t add the sugar too soon. Beat the egg whites (plus cream of tartar or vinegar) until they look creamy white -- more like shaving cream than frothy translucent yellow soapsuds -- and you can see the tracks from the beaters on the surface. Then start adding the sugar slowly, but not too slowly: about 1 heaping teaspoon at a time, over and over again, without hesitating but not in a rush, until all of the sugar is added.
Alice's new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet.
Photos by James Ransom