5A: Meringues

When I think of meringue, I think of lemon meringue pie (one of my favorite foods), meringue drop cookies, and French macarons. We’ll be learning macarons at some point; in this class, we learned pretty much everything else, though.

The origins of meringue are mysterious, and what were believed to be original recipes were destroyed in the Allied bombing of Frankfurt in World War II. A Swiss-Italian chef named Gasparini might have invented meringue in the 18th century. Marie Antoinette is said to have liked meringue so much that she made it herself.

There are three kinds of meringue: French, Italian, and Swiss. All contain beaten egg whites and sugar; the difference is in the method of making the meringue. French meringue is what most Americans think of when they think of meringue. That’s French meringue on the top of lemon meringue pie (but Italian meringue would be better; more on that later). You beat egg whites to soft peaks, then add sugar and beat some more. The usual ratio is 2 tablespoons of sugar per egg white. Adding more sugar stabilizes the meringue. French meringue is the most delicate and least stable, so it’s best for toppings. The more sugar you use, the better it browns.

Italian meringue is very stable, can be added to whipped cream to stabilize it, and is good for piping. To make Italian meringue, you beat egg whites to soft peaks. Meanwhile, you cook half the sugar with water; when the whites are at the soft peak stage, you add the hot sugar syrup to the beaten egg whites. Once the syrup is incorporated, you add the rest of the granulated sugar. Italian meringue is the best one to use for frozen desserts, like semifreddo. You can poach it to make floating island. It can be used for frosting or filling, combined with other ingredients to make cake layers, used as the lightener in dessert soufflés—the uses are apparently infinite. This is the meringue to use for topping a meringue pie. With French meringue, the sugar is never really completely incorporated into the beaten egg whites, and as the meringue sits, little beads of liquid sugar weep out of the meringue. By adding hot sugar syrup for Italian meringue, all the sugar gets completely incorporated and won’t weep out. Plus, Italian meringue browns better than French meringue, so it looks nicer. That whole business of cooking the sugar sounds like a lot of trouble, but it isn’t, really, and the result is worth it.

Swiss meringue is the most stable meringue and the one least affected by humidity. The texture is firmer than with other meringues, so it’s the one to use for decorations and as a base for dessert. To make Swiss meringue, you heat the egg whites and sugar over hot water, whisking constantly, until the mixture is heated to 100℉ (and up to 130℉). Then you dump the hot mixture into the stand mixer and whip it to the desired texture.

What we made in this class was a lot of meringue, most of it as dacquoise, round baked layers that can be used as cake layers or that can be used between layers of cake to add an interesting texture. We only got one dessert out of this class, but it was pretty spectacular. Otherwise, the layers were stored in the walk-in freezer for later use.

To begin, we baked some meringue to use for decorating the cake. We made Italian meringue, added coffee extract to it, and piped it in lines on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Coffee-flavored meringue piped onto a parchment-lined sheet pan

Coffee-flavored meringue piped onto a parchment-lined sheet pan

Then we baked that meringue for several hours. (Later we sliced it into lengths of an inch or so to use for a decoration.) Then we made meringue layers, called dacquoises, for the cake (which is also called a dacquoise). To Italian meringue we added almond flour, and then we piped circles of that onto parchment paper and baked them.

Chef Delphin demonstrates how to pipe meringue layers for dacquoise

Chef Delphin demonstrates how to pipe meringue layers for dacquoise

Then we made pâte décor (“decorating paste”), and Chef showed us how to spread it over a Silpat.

Chef Delphin demonstrates how to spread pâte décor.

Chef Delphin demonstrates how to spread pâte décor.

Then he showed us how to make designs in it.

Chef Delphin demonstrates one way to make designs in pâte décor.

Chef Delphin demonstrates one way to make designs in pâte décor.

The sheets of pâte décor had to go into the freezer to set, and while we were waiting for that we made the joconde batter. This is an almond sponge cake; it’s very pliable. When the pâte décor was set, we spread a thin layer of the joconde batter over it.

Spreading joconde batter over the pâte décor

Spreading joconde batter over the pâte décor

That’s so thin that it doesn’t take long to bake. Then you peel the cakes off of the Silpats

Baked jocondes ready to slice

Baked jocondes ready to slice

and slice them into strips. Then you fit each strip into a cake ring and cut it to fit.

Lining cake rings with strips of joconde

Lining cake rings with strips of joconde

Now it’s time to build the cake. First you fit a dacquoise into the bottom of the lined cake ring.

Fitting a layer of baked meringue into the cake ring

Fitting a layer of baked meringue into the cake ring

Then you add a layer of mousseline (like mousse, but stiffer) flavored with coffee extract and plenty of cognac, another dacquoise, and more mousseline.

Adding mousseline filling

Adding mousseline filling

Then you chill the cake again to set everything. While the cake is chilling, you take the strips of baked meringue and slice them into short lengths, which are called alumettes.

Strips of baked meringue, ready to slice

Strips of baked meringue, ready to slice

Then you retrieve the cake, remove the cake ring, and stick the alumettes into the top layer of mousseline for decoration. But that’s too plain,so you also sift on some powdered sugar and cocoa.

Cognac mousseline dacquoise

Cognac mousseline dacquoise

Chef Delphin likes to work with sugar, and we had a little time left, so he showed us how to make bubble sugar. You cook sugar syrup to the hard crack stage, then you pour it onto a sheet of parchment paper. Chef Delphin dripped some food coloring on this, and then he moved the parchment up and down so the sugar syrup slid back and forth. As the sugar hardened, bubbles formed in it.

Chef Delphin makes bubble sugar.

Chef Delphin makes bubble sugar.

When the sugar cools, it hardens. Chef Delphin cooled it over an uneven surface to make the hard sugar wavy.

Hardened bubble sugar

Hardened bubble sugar

Then we broke off pieces and stuck them in the cake for a garnish.

Cognac mousseline dacquoise, garnished and sliced

Cognac mousseline dacquoise, garnished and sliced

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About linguina

For most of my life I've loved to read and to make stuff. My mother says I taught myself to read when I was 4, and I never looked back. I also liked fooling around in the kitchen, but my mother wasn't really into cooking, so I learned a lot of that on my own, too. My sister and I had the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook (1965), and naturally I had to make the Enchanted Castle Cake. I learned how to bake bread when I was 14, and I bought a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I was 17. My aunt and uncle gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 19th birthday, and the first thing I made was soufflé. I've always been more of a baker than a cook, though. When our niece used to visit us during her breaks from college, she'd get me to show her some cooking things (including soufflé, of course!), but I kept having to tell her, "This is just how I do it. I have no idea if it's the right way." Finally, I took a basic cooking class, and that changed my life. After that class, I signed up for a 4-day baking class at King Arthur Flour. That's when I knew I was really a baker. Now I'm taking the professional pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. With this training, I'll become a pastry chef.
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