Did you know meringue also has a ratio to it? I didn’t, either, until almost a year ago. I had always strictly followed a recipe because the first time I tried to make it had been a complete disaster. That was also almost 9 years ago, so I’ve come a long way since!
The ratio for meringue is so simple. It’s 2:1 sugar to egg whites. All you need to do is weigh the egg whites and then double that amount to get the amount of sugar you’ll need. The sugar is usually granulated sugar, but I’ve also used powdered sugar to no disastrous results.
Now let’s go over the 2 ways I use meringue.
It’s not all about buttercream! Though you can certainly add butter to meringue to make it into a buttercream. There are 3 ways to making a meringue frosting (that you can or don’t have to add butter to): French, Swiss, and Italian.
French meringue is just whipping the egg whites and adding the sugar and then whipping to nice firm peaks. This is the least stable meringue frosting, but it’s so easy. I’ll chat a bit more about the meringue cookies you can make from this a little later.
I haven’t tried Swiss meringue yet, but it’s somewhat more complicated than French as you cook the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler. It’s a little more stable than the French version, but I can’t tell you more about it because I haven’t tried it yet.
The Italian meringue is the one I usually use (see the picture below). There’s a frosting my husband adores from his childhood that appears to be based on the Italian meringue. We think. I’m still working on cracking the one he keeps talking about because the only one who could tell us passed away, but my husband enjoys the Italian meringue, so I make it a lot. This is not only the most stable, but it’s also a bit dangerous. It involves cooking the sugar with just enough water to make it look like wet sand until it reaches the soft ball stage on a thermometer (use a brush with water to wipe down the sides of the pot so the sugar doesn’t burn). Then the sugar is slowly poured into the whipped egg whites (plus a little bit of cream of tartar or lemon juice to help stabilize it) while the mixer is on. This gets whipped at a high speed until the bowl cools down. The meringue will look collapsed, but that’s what you’re looking for. It should be glossy and shiny with nice stiff peaks. It shouldn’t take too long, but I usually keep my mixer going for about an hour as that’s the only way I can get it close to his beloved frosting.
To any of these, you can add butter to get a buttercream.
Let’s go back to the French meringue. This is exactly how you can make the leave it and forget it cookies. If you whip the egg whites with a bit of cream of tarter and then slowly add the sugar, you’ll end up with something white and shiny that you can spoon or pipe onto a baking sheet. They just need a tiny bit of room between them as they neither rise nor expand. I usually cover just about every inch of my baking sheet because 3 egg whites makes a lot of little cookies!
Different recipes will give you different temperatures. I think I’ve tried them all. My preference is 250 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the tops are firm and a light tap yields a hollow sound. Then I turn off the oven and leave it. I walk away until the oven is cool, then I take out the cookies. If they’re not all eaten, I store them in an air tight container and watch them disappear.
The exterior is crunchy and the interior is soft and chewy. My husband and kids will gobble them down like there’s no tomorrow, so using 3 egg whites isn’t a bad idea!
There’s just a question of what to do with the yolks. Next time I’ll share the pudding I made with the egg yolks I had left over the last time I made meringue cookies. Which are blue because I let my kids pick a color. Being stuck at home for 4 months with two young kids does that. I suppose.