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Italian, French, Swiss – Oh my!

I used to be reluctant to make meringues; they always sounded intimidating and highly technical. I learned, though, that this is only true in part, and that meringue is pretty easy to make. What’s also fascinating to me about meringue is that it can be prepared in three different ways, using the very same ingredients of egg whites and sugar. Three different techniques will transform the meringue into three impossibly light and deliciously sweet treats.

The most basic meringue recipe will consist of beating egg whites and sugar, but the more technical part of making meringue is in the combination of sugar and heat. In all three forms of meringue, egg whites are beaten with sugar and cooked, but it is the variance in sugar and cooking that defines a meringue. French meringue is made by beating egg whites and sugar into stiff peaks, then baking the meringue into the desired shape, like meringue cookies. It’s the least dense of the three different meringues.

Swiss meringue what you’d likely see in those elegant patisserie confections – a layered meringue cake, for example. Swiss is made using a double-boiler technique. Egg whites and sugar are in a bowl above simmering water and whipped with an electric mixer. The warm water will cook the egg whites and the timing of the sugar makes a Swiss meringue the denser of the three meringues.

Italian meringue is considered the most “stable” of the meringues. It’s made by whisking egg whites until just stiff, then slowly incorporating hot sugar syrup, beating the meringue until the egg whites become truly stiff and glossy. The meringue is a great addition to a buttercream frosting or to add texture to a mousse.

I love the almost magical quality of meringues. They’re, all at once, light, crisp, chewy, and sweet. Don’t feel intimidated by meringues, even though dealing with egg whites can be anxiety-inducing (we don’t want to lose that essential airiness!). The end result of a perfectly prepared meringue is worth the effort.

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