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Friday, 31 May 2013

Food: how to make Italian meringue

Since I bought my new stand mixer, I've been aching to try out a whole load of new recipes and techniques. Although making bread is high up on the list, I couldn't resist having a stab at Italian meringue and I'm so glad I did. Italian meringue is different to the more common place French meringue. French meringue is simply made by whipping up eggs whites and then gradually incorporating caster sugar - you then bake it off. This type of meringue is commonly found in pavlovas, shop meringues and toppings of lemon meringue pie. I love this meringue because, when cooked well, you get a delicious chewy toffeey centre. The Italian meringue is the French meringue's more sophisticated cousin and, as such, is harder to make - it involves using very specific temperatures and making a sugar syrup from scratch  The end result is a very light and fluffy meringue with no hint of sugar crystals (an almost marshmallow texture) which is used to top fancy cakes and pastries. The Internet is surprisingly sparse in terms of offering suggestions on how to make it: I used several recipes for inspiration including this and this.

I used my Italian meringue as an alternative to topping cupcakes. It made a much lighter and less rich topping compared with buttercream. I approved and will definitely be making it again. The quantity below will easily top 12 standard cupcakes. I piped the meringue on and then used a blow torch to toast the meringue to give a lovely caramelised flavour.

A note on equipment:
Italian meringues are tricky to make - it is ESSENTIAL that you have the following 'special' pieces of equipment: a cooks' thermometer and stand mixer - they simply will not work without.

you'll need a stand mixer, cooking thermometer, saucepan and jug

4 eggs whites
200g caster sugar
200ml water

1. Begin my placing the sugar and the water in a saucepan. Place the cooking thermometer into the sugar syrup. It is important that you do not stir the mixture - instead simply swirl the saucepan.

use a cooking thermometer to make your sugar syrup
2. Heat the sugar syrup gently until it reaches 100 degrees celsius.
3. At this point, place the egg whites into the perfectly clean bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed with either the paddle or whisk attachment.

whisk the egg whites
4. Whisk until the egg whites become stiff.

eggs whites should be firm enough to hold upside down
5. Continue to heat the sugar syrup until it reaches 121 degrees celsius (firm ball stage).
6. Pour the sugar syrup into a jug to make it easier to pour.
7. Dribble the sugar syrup onto the egg whites, beating all the while. It should take around 3 minutes to incorporate all the syrup i.e. do it very slowly. Try to avoid dribbling it on the edge of the bowl  you want to be pouring it into the egg whites themselves.

pour the sugar syrup into the middle of the egg whites
8. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, continue to whisk on a medium to high speed for 15-20 minutes by which time the sugar will have cooled and you will have a beautifully light Italian meringue.

italian meringue
9. Use a piping bag and nozzle of your choice to pipe the meringue onto your cupcakes and then toast using a blow torch.

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