Ever been left with egg whites after making a recipe that calls for egg yolks only? And not feeling like making meringues from the oven, again? That’s how I felt, until, I discovered how to make an Italian meringue. But then, I made twice as much of the meringue as I needed to top my freshly baked cheesecake (recipe from Laura’s bakery) and I was left with some that stood in my fridge for a week or so. When that cheesecake had finally finished, I decided to get out that left over and use it for something. But then, the Italian meringue had collapsed… Fortunately, it was easy to revive! That’s why today is all about (saving) Italian meringue.
Making Italian meringue
Making Italian meringue isn’t hard to do, as long as you have two essentials: a stand mixer (or someone who’s helping you out) and a thermometer. The process is actually very similar to that of making marshmallows. Of course, I’ve already explained the science of marshmallow making, which is similar to that of making a merginue, though an Italian meringue is even easier.
So let’s start with the recipe for this meringue type.
- 4 egg whites
- 35g icing sugar
- 160g sugar
- approx 50g water
- Heat the sugar with water in a pan. Keep on boiling until the solution has reached a temperature of 121C. It is important that you monitor this temperature closely. The final boiling temperature will strongly influence the structure of your meringue.
- Whip up the egg whites until you’ve got a fluffy foam. Add the icing sugar and whip again until you’ve got a form foam again.
- Once the sugar has been boiled to the correct temperature, slowly pour with the egg whites while continuously beating the egg whites. Keep on beating until the foam has cooled down to room temperature.
Science of an Italian meringue
If your familiar with making foams from egg whites this process should look very familiar. You whip up egg whites until it’s nice and fluffy. During this whipping process air gets incorporated into the egg white in a lot of small air bubbles. If you would do this to water, these would collapse again almost immediately, however, egg whites contain a lot of proteins. These proteins will sit around the air bubbles and prevent the air bubbles from coming together and thus collapsing.
Sugar helps stabilizing an egg white foam. The sugar will make the water (which sits in between the air bubbles) slightly more viscous and thus stronger. Of course, sugar also strongly influences the taste of the meringue.
Another trick to stabilize the foam is to heat it. By heating the proteins denaturation will take place, this means that the proteins will unfold and set. If you do this in the oven moisture evaporates as well and a porous dry structure is created.
When making an Italian meringue on the other hand, no moisture is evaporated, but heat does help to stabilize the system. Several things play a role here. First of all, the heat of the sugar syrup will kill possible bacteria in the egg white. At the same time, heating a sugar syrup will cause it to evaporate moisture and thus the sugar concentration increases. When you pour this on the egg whites a lot of sugar can be added to stabilize the foam.
Adding regular granulated sugar without boiling it would not kill bacteria, but it would also be a lot harder to dissolve all the sugar. By heating it first in water it dissolves, giving you a super smooth foam!
Saving an Italian meringue
What’s special about the Italian meringue is that it’s quite a stable foam, however, it is not as stable as a meringue that has been baked in the oven. So it will actually collapse slowly over time, which is exactly what happend after I left it in the fridge for a week.
An Italian meringue will probably have some denatured proteins, however, by far not all proteins will have denatured. This means though that even though the meringue might collapse over time since the air bubbles slowly leave, you can restore this by whipping it up again!
So the trick to revive the Italian meringue is actually really simple: Put your Italian meringue in a stand mixer and turn on the whip on a high speed. Don’t worry if the meringue collapses at first. Whipping it will actually take out all the air that’s still in there! Just keep on whipping at this point in time, after 5-10 minutes you will see it coming up again. You will have restructured all the proteins around the freshly made air bubbles and it will stay stable for a couple of days again.
Problem solved! No need to throw out this smooth delicacy, just add it to your pie again.
What’s in the name?
Besides Italian meringue there are two other main types: French & Swiss meringue. They’re all made of sugar and egg whites, the differences sits in the way the sugar is heated. French meringue doesn’t use any heated sugar, it is actually the basis of my Dutch schuimpjes. Swiss meringues are made by heating the sugar and egg whites together over a double boiler. I’m not sure where the names come from, but it seems as if Europeans quite liked meringues!