After ‘studying’ the ingredients you need to make a meringue, it was time to make some batches. See whether it could make sense out of it. I decided to go with a recipe from a cookbook as a first start, thinking that would be the ‘safest’ option. I chose a Dutch recipe, for a meringue that we would call ‘schuimpjes’.
To be honest, I don’t even like ‘schuimpjes’ that much. They tend to work best together with something else in a dessert, but when studying something, you’ve got to keep it simple. So I went for making just the ‘schuimpjes’ instead of complicated desserts.
The recipe I used goes as follows and yes, of course, I had to experiment with the recipe so made several varieties besides the basic recipe.
- 2 egg whites
- 100g sugar (standard)
- sprinkle of salt
- vanilla sugar
- Put all ingredients in a bowl and keep on whisking until the egg white is firm. The foam shouldn't collapse and when you remove the mixer peaks should remain standing up.
- Of course, I couldn't just stick to the recipe, so I did some other tests and made a total of 4 different batches. I made the first batch, took out some to bake and then went on to make the 2nd variety, and so on.
- Variety 1: I added about a tablespoon of extra water.
- Variety 2: I added about a teaspoon of extra sugar
- Variety 3: I added another teaspoon of extra sugar
Adding extra water to uncooked meringue foam
What’s reason to add extra water to my meringue mixture. As you might know, egg whites contain a lot of egg proteins. These proteins serve to stabilize the meringue, learn more about eggs and egg proteins here. I once read about the fact that the proteins can actually stabilize a lot more moisture than just the water which is present in the egg¹. So, it should be possible to add extra water and still make a firm foam. I tested it out and yes, it worked! The foam looked a little less firm, but kept its shape nevertheless.
Subsequently I tried adding extra sugar to firm up the foam more. The sugar mixed in ok, but I did have the idea that I couldn’t whip it up as high anymore. These ‘schuimpjes’ slumped in a little.
Baking the meringue
Baking meringues is a very precarious process that I, of course, managed to ruin. Yes, I did. You’re supposed to bake the meringue at 100°C for 45-60 minutes, preferably with the oven door open if using an electric oven. And I, well, I didn’t follow the instructions. I baked the meringues at 150°C for 5 minutes, then turned down the heat to 100°C. I kept them in for another 1 hour and 30 minutes. In between I regularly checked the meringues by cracking them open and seeing if the inside was cooked. Most of the time it wasn’t, the inside stayed a little soft.
When baking the meringue a few things happen: water evaporates and egg proteins set. It took a long time to fully cook them, why did it last that long? Well, the main mistake that I made is that I cranked up the oven at the start. This made the outside of the meringues cook and stabilized the shape. However, it also prevented moisture from evaporating. Therefore, the inner part stayed soft for a long time.
Once all meringues were baked, it was time for tasting. Me and my fellow testers couldn’t really taste any differences between the meringues. So adding some extra water or sugar did not affect the sensory profile of the schuimpjes!
Kitchen learnings on meringue
From these nice tests we have learned several lessons on meringues, keep them in mind when trying it in the future!
- Do you want meringues with a soft, not completely cooked center? Crack up the oven at the start to a temperature higher than your recipe says. This will prevent moisture from escaping.
- Feel free to add some extra water to your meringue recipe, egg whites can handle a lot more moisture than you might expect.
- Even though my previous post on meringues told you not to add salt, I did add salt and it still worked, although I must mention the amount of salt was very small. I wouldn’t add it in a next test.
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¹ I read this in: Molecular Gastronomy, Exploring the science of flavour, by Hervé This, 2006, p.300