Thursday, 13 April 2017

Side-by-Side Baking - Meringues

If you've ever wondered if  frozen egg whites produce a better meringue than a fresh, or even pasteurised one, then keep on reading.  In this side-by-side comparison bake I look at meringues, comparing egg whites in four different states to determine if one is better than the other.

A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.

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 include 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 battersfolding 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.

Meringue Kisses

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. 




The Results.

 

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.


A  meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.

 ....and after the bake.
 
A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.

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.     

A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.

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.

Batch 2.


A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.

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.

 
A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.
 
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.


Batch 4.


A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.

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!    

Raspberry & White Chocolate meringue Kisses


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! 





 

 

 

 

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A meringue baking comparison, looking at fresh, frozen and pasturised egg whites.







 

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16 comments:

  1. Another fascinating baking comparison Angela. I usually use fresh eggs rather than the pasteurised eggs whites, it's good to see that's the best way.

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    1. Thanks Charlotte, I'm glad you enjoy them :-)
      It certainly looked to me as though the non-pasteurised egg whites produced a better meringue. I too have always used fresh eggs, but I'm definitely not going to shy away from freezing them in the future especially when in reality I don't have time to use up the egg whites left over from a bake.
      Angla x

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  2. This post was compulsive reading! I love your experimental posts! I am a fan of fresh egg whites for my meringues but good to know other methods work too. Please do the side by side on storing egg whites too! Am fascinated xx

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    1. Aw thankyou Helen :-) It is useful to know that egg whites in other states are effective too isn't it. Yup, I'm fascinated about the storing of egg whites too - who'd have thought that particles of oil could leach into the food! It's now on the list.
      Angela x

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  3. What a surprise at the end of your blogpost - certainly wasn't expecting to see my name there! Thank you for the mention though. This is so useful to have the 3 different types (french, swiss, italian) meringue explained as I've never found them explained so clearly in one place. I'm also fascinated to hear more about adding cream of tartar and vinegar as some recipes have it for things like pavlova and some don't so I never know why or what is best. One other thing I struggle with is knowing exactly what texture is the 'right' texture for meringues to have - I suppose it is down to preference ultimately but if mine end up soft on the inside I'm never sure if that is technically 'wrong' or whether they're supposed to be crunchy outside and a bit soft inside. Sorry for all the questions! You're such a baking guru. x

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    1. Hahaha, baking Guru, love it! Though in reality I'm not. I'm just a very keen home baker who gets a lot of satisfaction out of baking for people :-)
      Aw, you're more than welcome Rebecca, I thought it would proove (no pun intended ;-) ) to be an interesting topic.
      Yeah, I've often got confused over the three types of meringue myself. Mum and I always made the classic French meringue and it wasn't until I became far more engrossed in baking that I realised that there were different versions of meringue. I've made the Swiss version (with success) but have yet to try the Italian version. I think now that I have a sugar thermometer I'll be giving that a go in the not too distant future. Yes, I was thinking of mentioning additions like cream of tartar and white wine vinegar to the post, but tbh I never add them. I just use egg white and sugar. I believe (though I could well be wrong) that the additions can help to stabilise the mixture and other additions can help to create a more marshmallowy texture to the meringue. I've popped it down on the list.
      When beating your meringue Rebecca you're aiming for it to be very thick and glossy. If you can tip the bowl upside down without it all falling out then it's ready to use. I think the difference in your meringues (of sometimes being soft and other times crunchy) is down to the bake. Meringues (ie lemon meringue pie) and pavlovas are essentially the same mixture but it's how they're baked that determinds their texture on being ate. So a long slow bake (these kisses were baked for 1 hr at 100c & then left in the oven to cool for 2 hrs) allows the meringue to dry out and produces that pavlova crunch style. Whereas a hotter oven allows the eggwhite to cook and turn golden but the inside remain marshamllowy which is great for a lemon meringue pie. I hope that helps Rebecca, and I've added a sectiopn to the post about baking them (thanks for the prompt)
      Thanks for all of your interest,
      Angela xx

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    2. thank you SO much for such a detailed reply! I'm sure all these answers are out there somewhere by googling but I never seem to find the exact answers i'm looking for. Now I know how to get totally perfect meringues! - thank you! x

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    3. You're welcome Recebba, I'm glad it was useful :-)
      Angela xx

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  4. Wow - a fascinating article, Angela. I love your side-by-sides as you know. You obviously put so much effort into them and I learn something new every time!! I especially loved your little video - I have always used the shell to shell method...and I don't think it had really occurred to me there was another way! The second method looks way too messy for me...but I rather liked that nifty little third way with the egg cup - very clever!! Thanks for linking it up to #CookBlogShare and Happy Easter :-) Eb x

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    1. Aw thanks Eb :-) I love doing the Side-by-Side series but it does take an age to write it up and edit! It's all worth it because I learn something each time, and it sounds as though other pople do too :-)
      Thanks Eb, I was in two minds about including the video because I didn't want it to look like I was teaching people to suck eggs, so to speak. I too was taught from being very young with my Grandma and Mum to split them with the shell - they're the perfect vessel which saves on extra washing up (something I know your passionate about ;-) ). But there are are occassions when I end up with a shell 'half' which is far too small to use so I end up using my hands. There seems to be a lot of chefs on TV these days which use that method too. Haha, could you tell that I was feeling it was a bit messy from watching my hand 'behaviour' in the video! I'd completely forgotten to have a cloth at my side for it! Lol!
      Thanks for your lovely comment, and Happy Easter to you and your family too Eb
      Angela x

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  5. What an interesting and informative article Angela! I've learned so much as I am one of those people who never make meringues (because I really actually lack the skill!), so thank you for introducing me to the world of meringues! I might finally give them a try:)

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    1. Thankyou Monika, though I'm more than sure that you do have the skill. If you give them a go, i think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy they are to make :-)
      Angela xx

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  6. I confess I have never made a traditional meringue because I don't like eggs much but I have a mother who makes this sort of stuff a lot so it intereste me - and I have had many discussions about pavlovas so I am surprised to hear you say that a pavlova is crisp throughout - I have always thought that a meringue is crisp throughout, maybe a little chewy, whereas a pav is definitely marshmallowy inside.

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    1. Ooh isn't that interesting! I imagine meringues to be those that we top bakes like lemon meringue pie and the likes with and they've always been crisp on the outside and soft and marshmallowy inside, whereas to me pavlovas are firmer bakes which are cooked much slower and often dry out completely (though people might prefer to stop the bake earlier so they have a slight chew on the inside).
      Angela x

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  7. Such an interesting post Angela. I have been really interested in meringue properties recently as well and would absolutely agree that fresh eggs make the best (and most reliable) meringues. I have also tried the Meringue Girls method which is somewhere between the French and Italian methods..... adding the sugar hot (but not syrupped). It would be interesting to see how that compares with the above test as well..... xx

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    1. It's such a fascinating subject isn't it. I've seen the Meringue Girls too and their preference for heating the sugar in the oven before adding it to the egg whites. It's definitely a technique I definitely want to try. I seem to recall you had great success with it recently too.
      Angela x

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