What are meringues?

Meringue is a fluffy, sweet mix usually made with just whipped egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar. Meringues are a light, airy dessert perfect for a little something sweet. They are frequently used for pie toppings and cake icings. They are also used to give volume and lightness to buttercream icings and to such preparations as mousses and dessert soufflés.

In 1720, Gasparini created a small pastry of dried egg foam and sugar from which the simplified meringue evolved. Its fame spread and Marie Antoinette is said to have prepared the sweet with her own hands at the Trianon in France.

Meringues may be whipped to various degrees of stiffness as long as they are not overbeaten until they are too stiff and dry. For most purposes, they are beaten until they form stiff, or nearly stiff, moist peaks.

The most critical factor in making meringue is humidity. Because it has a high sugar content, meringue can absorb moisture from the air and become limp and sticky.

Common meringue, also called French meringue, is made from egg whites at room temperature, beaten with sugar. It is the easiest to make, and it is reasonably stable due to the high percentage of sugar.

Swiss meringue is made from egg whites and sugar that are warmed over a hot-water bath while they are beaten. This warming gives the meringue better volume and stability. Meringue baked in a pie plate forms a delicate crust for fillings, such as chocolate or lemon, and the result is often known as Angel Pie.

Italian meringue is made by beating a hot sugar syrup into the egg whites. This meringue is the most stable of the three because the egg whites are cooked by the heat of the syrup. When flavored with vanilla, it is also known as boiled icing. It is also used in meringue-type buttercream icings. Also known as Boiled Frosting and used to frost cakes, as a topping like soft meringue or as a base for frozen desserts and may also be baked like hard meringue or poached.

Beat egg whites with lemon juice until frothy. Gradually beat in sugar until mixture forms soft peaks. To obtain stiff peaks, continue beating. Spread over hot filling. Bake in 425°F (220°C) oven for 4 to 5 minutes or until meringue is golden, or microwave on medium high (70%) for 3 to 4 minutes or until set. It makes enough for a 9-inch (23 cm) pie.

The nature of meringue is to develop small droplets of water on the surfaces shortly after it is remove from the oven. This is a common problem with tarts and pies and can easily be eliminated by just allowing the tart or pie to remain in the oven until it cools off somewhat.
What are meringues?

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