Regulars to Only Crumbs Remain may recall our Rhubarb and Custard Genoise Cake, I know we recall it not least because it was absolutely delicious! With the numerous egg whites left over from the creme patisserie, meringues seemed to be a bake not far on the horizon. However, being a little short of time, and conscious that we had a wonderful cake to keep our sweet tooth happy, the egg whites were popped into the freezer for another day.
Usually I just chill our surplus egg whites in the fridge with the plan of making a pavlova, or similar, the following day. I have to confess that there has been the occasional instance when that well intentioned plan doesn’t come to fruition and said egg whites end up being washed down the sink! It’s such a waste, especially when they could have been frozen. However, never having used frozen egg whites for a meringue, it occurred to me that meringues and egg whites in different states would be the perfect subject for our Side-by-Side Baking comparison this month.
About my Side-by-Side Baking Series.
If you’re new to Only Crumbs Remain, you may be wondering what my
Side-by-Side Baking series is all about. Basically, it’s an ongoing
series of posts where I look at the effects certain techniques and food
products have on given bakes. More often than not, and I certainly
myself here, we are shown how to make, say a Victoria Sponge,
but with little understanding of why we may be folding in the flour so
gently and what would happen to our cake if we didn’t. This series is
designed to experiment with and highlight such techniques and products
with a view to appreciating why we carry out them out. So for instance, last month we looked at two different ways of making a Genoise cake, but I’ve also looked at curdled cake batters, folding in flour by hand against that folded in with a spatula, butter quality in cake batters and the all-in-one method against the traditional creaming-in-method.
These bakes are designed to focus upon one aspect of baking (or even
ingredient) to see if we can make our bakes even better or even if there
are some, dare I say, short cuts we can take to achieve a good result.
Therefore, in this series there will always be at least two separate
batches baked in these comparisons to allow me, and you as the reader,
to literally compare them Side-by-Side.
Side-by-Side Baking – Egg Whites & Meringues.
So, as I’ve already mentioned, for this month’s comparison bake I chose
to look at egg whites in different states to make basic meringues. When I say ‘state’, by that I mean comparing fresh egg whites against those which have been frozen and even pasteurised. The aim is to determine if there is a difference between the different egg white state and the resultant meringues, or if they each produce a meringue equally as good.
But first, before diving headlong into our baking comparison, let’s talk meringues.
How to make Meringues.
Occasionally I read of people being put off making meringues. Either because they may have had a mini disaster, or perhaps they don’t feel to have the baking skills needed.
Well, first of all, can I say loud and clear, please don’t be put off by making homemade meringue. They really aren’t difficult and you don’t need any fancy kit like a stand mixer to make them either.
So, what kit do I need to make a meringue?
Well, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a stand mixer use that, but electric beaters are just as effective. Alternatively, a balloon or egg whisk would do the job just as well. It will clearly take longer to whip the egg whites into a thick glossy meringue with a balloon whisk, but it is achievable. Trust me! Mum and I used to make lemon meringue pie all the time with a balloon whisk (and elbow
grease!) Though these days I admit I tend to rely on our electric beaters
to do the hard work for me.
Tips for making meringues.
Although meringues are easy to make, there a couple of golden rules to consider. This is no doubt one of the reasons why people are put off trying to make their own, but honestly, they’re not difficult ‘rules’ and following them will mean the difference between a good meringue and one which won’t hold its shape.
- Ensure your bowl and beaters (whisk) are scrupulously clean and dry. Any residue of fat, washing up liquid of even water could affect your meringue. Just take an extra minute or so preparing and checking the utensils before separating the eggs. Top Tip: Some people advocate wiping the bowl and beaters with a slice of lemon before starting.
- Split the eggs carefully. For the same reason as above, take care when separating the white from the egg yolk. As we know egg yolks contain fat and any yolk getting into the white could affect your meringue. Top Tip: To ensure you’re happy with each egg white consider separating each egg into a cup before tipping the white into your mixing bowl. This will also ensure any egg yolk which does break doesn’t affect those which you’ve already successfully split!
How do I separate an egg?
Now, if you’re new to baking and are wondering how on earth to separate the white from the yolk successfully, wonder no longer! Below is a quick video sharing three different ways to easily separate the white and yolk of an egg!
Types of meringues
There are three types of meringues, French (classic), Swiss and Italian. The ingredients remain the same, egg white and sugar, but the difference between them comes from how they are prepared and combined.
- French (classic) Meringue. This is arguably the easiest method to use. The egg whites are simply whipped up in a bowl until soft peak stage. The caster sugar is then added slowly, a teaspoon at a time, whilst the mixture continues to be beaten. The mixture will become thick, smooth and glossy. This is the method I used for this Side-by-Side Baking comparison,
- Swiss Meringue. This method sees the egg whites and sugar whisked together over a bain marie (water bath) and the sugar is added from the start. James Martin, in his book Sweet, tells us that it produces a much firmer meringue and is ideal for lemon meringue pies, baked Alaska, and ice cream cakes, though I have also used it with great success in this Strawberry & Basil Pavlova.
- Italian Meringue. This approach to meringues sees hot sugar syrup whisked into the foamy egg whites. The method clearly takes a little more effort but results in a more stable meringue which can be eaten without being baked, as such it’s the perfect method for frostings like Italian butter cream.
When do I know my meringue is ready?
Well this is the classic test and I’m sure most people will have seen this carried out on TV shows, or even Youtube channels. Basically the bowl, with meringue, should be able to be tipped upside down over your head without the meringue falling out and you running in the direction of the shower for an impromptu clean up! Basically the meringue will have become very thick and glossy when it is ready to be used.
So what’s the difference between a meringue and Pavlova?
Even though meringues and pavlovas contain the same ingredients, egg white and sugar, they are very different to eat. Pavlovas are crisp on the outside and chewy within, though they can even be crisp and crunchy throughout. Whereas meringues are soft and mashmallowy inside. The difference is all down to the bake. A long slow bake, like I gave these meringue kisses, helps the egg white to dry out and therefore produces a crisp bake perfect for filled pavlovas and these kisses. Whereas a warmer quicker bake allows the meringue to become golden, leaving a beautifully soft and marshmallowy centre. This is great for desserts like Lemon Meringue Pie.
So, for instance
- to bake crisp meringue kisses set your oven at gas mark 1/2 / 100℃ Fan (or as low as you can) and bake them for 1 hour. Turn the oven off, leaving the oven door shut to allow the kisses to cool slowly within the oven for at least 2 hours.
- for a dessert like a lemon meringue pie, or blackberry meringue pie, set your oven to gas 3, 140℃ Fan and allow the meringue to make for about 30 minutes.
- for a Baked Alaska, the meringue can either be finished with a cook’s blow torch or popped into a moderate oven (Gas 6 / 180℃ Fan) for 8-10 minutes.
Side-by-Side Baking – Meringues.
Making French Meringues – The Four Batches.
This month’s comparison bake saw four batches of meringue kisses made with egg whites in four different states, the aim
being to identify if there is a difference between fresh, frozen and pasteurised egg whites when making a meringue.
- Batch 1: Fresh egg whites were used.
- Batch 2: Egg whites which had been frozen, and then defrosted in the fridge over night were used.
- Batch 3: Pasteurised egg whites were used (Two chicks).
- Batch 4: Pasteurised egg whites which had been frozen and then defrosted over night were used (Two Chicks).
How I went about the Side-by-Side baking comparison.
Like with all of my side-by-side bakes, I aim to go about the bake
fairly methodically and perhaps a little scientifically aiming to keep
each batch identical in terms of how the mixture was created, the ingredient weights and ratios, and how it was then
baked. In theory the only differences to the bakes should be those
outlined in the four batches above. So each batch:
- was made using the same weight of ingredients (the egg white of batch 1 was weighed and this value was matched in the subsequent batches),
- saw the egg whites which had been frozen (from a fresh egg and pasteurised) were defrosted over night in the fridge before being used,
- saw the frozen egg whites stored in identical Tupperware containers,
- saw the same quantity of sugar added,
- saw the same quality of caster sugar used,
- saw the bowl, beaters and piping nozzle cleaned and dried thoroughly between each batch,
- was beaten with the same pair of hand held electric beaters,
- saw the electric beaters used on the same speed,
- was made as a French meringue,
- saw the sugar added a teaspoon at a time once the egg whites had passed the foaming stage and were thickening,
- saw the meringue used to make small meringue kisses,
- saw the same star piping nozzle used to shape each of the meringue kisses,
- saw the meringue kisses baked in the same part of the oven,
- saw them baked for the same period of time,
- saw them baked at the same temperature,
- saw them cooled undisturbed for the same period of time.
Well, on the face of it I have to admit that there appeared to be no appreciable difference between the four batches of meringue kisses made other than a slightly longer time required to whip up the pasteurised egg whites (both fresh and frozen).
However, once the images of the batches were viewed it became clear that there was a difference!
Below is a collage of the four batches of meringue kisses prior to baking.
….and after the bake.
I hope that the two collages above help you to see the difference. In my opinion, looking at the images, I feel as though batch 1 and 2, (those made with the non pasteurised egg whites) produced a much better meringue in terms of the definition of ridges created from the star piping nozzle. This distinction definitely wouldn’t be as apparent had a plain nozzle or spoon been used to create the meringue kisses.
The other visual difference I noticed was that the pasteurised egg whites (batches 3 & 4) picked up a slight golden colour to them during the bake. Now this is is subjective as the collage image above seems to suggest that batch 1 also has a slight colour to it, but I can confirm that to the naked eye only batches 3 & 4 had coloured. Of course, whether this matters depends on what you’re baking and the effect you’re aiming for.
The final difference identified was regarding flavour, or rather the texture of the meringues kisses. Batches 1 and 2 produced beautiful melt in the mouth meringues which were very moreish. Those created from the pasteurised egg had a much firmer texture to them which I can only compare to shop bought meringue nests. In my opinion batches 1 and 2 were far more enjoyable to eat.
The egg whites and the meringues.
Batch 1 was created from fresh egg whites. It produced a French meringue which was glossy and stiff, which is evident by the detail created from the star shaped piping nozzle. It was also a pleasure to eat. From reading James Martin’s new baking book, Sweet, this is the state of egg white he prefers to use when making meringues.
This batch of meringue kisses was created from egg whites which had been frozen for a month and then defrosted in the fridge over night before being whipped up into a French meringue. I hope you can see from the image above that the meringue shape has retained a lot of detail from the star shaped piping nozzle. This was also a pleasure to eat.
Batch 3 was made with pasteurised eggs (Two Chicks), a product I’ve never used before though one which clearly has its benefits. Although it soon created a foam, the meringue took a little longer to achieve a firm glossy state in comparison to batches 1 and 2. This was only marginal, though it may be worth considering that the extended beating time may become more exaggerated with more than 1 egg white. Eat wise, this meringue was less enjoyable being compared to shop bought meringue nests.
This final batch was made with frozen pasteurised egg whites. This meringue took a little longer to whip up, like batch 3. Though it produced an acceptable meringue, which held its shape during the piping and bake, it was less defined than that of a meringue made with non-pasteurised eggs. Again, like batch 3, the texture of these meringue kisses resembled that of shop bought meringue nests, which for me, is less enjoyable than a homemade meringue.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by those meringues made with the pasteurised egg
whites, particularly those which had been frozen. The packaging of the
Two Chicks pasteurised egg whites tells us that although the product can
be frozen for up to 2 years, it remarked that ‘freezing may cause the
whisking property to be reduced’. This was something which was echoed
in this article,
which tells us that pasteurised egg whites will only create a stiff
meringue once cream of tartar or lemon juice is added. Despite having some
lemon juice to hand whilst making this batch I opted not to add it as
the meringue did whip up nice and thick (though as we’ve already
discussed perhaps not as well as that made with non-pasteurised egg
whites). It may also be interesting to note here that the Two Chick
pasteurised product does contain a thickener (guar gum) which may,
perhaps, have aided the meringue.
Final thoughts about making meringues with fresh, frozen or pasteurised egg whites.
Although I personally found batch 2 (frozen non pasteurised egg whites) to be more successful in this little Side-by-Side Baking comparison, I did find that all four batches of French meringue to be acceptable.
From my reading in preparation for this post it may be worth noting here that fresh egg whites can be frozen for up to 12 months. It’s probably worthwhile freezing each egg white separately allowing any that are unneeded to remain frozen. Also, defrost the egg whites in the fridge.
Finally, and somewhat interestingly, one article I came across (I’m sorry I’ve not been able to relocate it) advised not to store egg whites in plastic containers as whilst the egg is being stored in a vessel essentially made from oil it can seep into the food and affect its meringue making properties! Perhaps something to consider for a future side by side comparison!
If you have been left wondering how I used our mini mountain of meringues, then check out our Raspberry and White Chocolate Meringue Kisses, they were simply delicious!
Coming up in our Side-by-Side series….
Coming up next month in our Side-by-Side baking series we’ll be looking at different bread flours and their response when preparing a dough as requested by Rebecca at The Beezley Buzz.
If you have a baking comparison suggestion feel free to mention it in the comments below and I shall add it to the list!