Don’t be intimidated by the title- Italian Meringue is really easy, quick, and one of the most delicious ways you can frost a cake, top a pie, make a mousse, or even some cookies (baked meringues and macarons, I’m talking about you). It also serves as the base for some delicious Italian Meringue Buttercream (I’ll save that recipe for some other time). With only 3 basic ingredients (4 if you decide to flavor it a bit), this is ready to use in 10 minutes. It’s so light and soft, yet shapely and stable, you’ll want to start slapping it on everything.
There are few different kinds of meringues- Swiss, French, and Italian. They all arise out of the same basic ingredients- essentially egg whites and sugar-but differ on how the ingredients are incorporated together (that’s a whole post in and of itself). For me, Italian Meringue is perhaps my favorite if for no other reason than it is the most stable of the meringues, and can be used for a variety of purposes.
I’ve also found it to be somewhat forgiving- not a quality you’d expect from a meringue. You can vary your egg white to sugar ratio a bit and still achieve a beautiful meringue, just with slightly different qualities. More sugar equals a more stiff and stable meringue; less sugar equals a more silky, softer and fluffier meringue. Either way, your dessert will look beautiful and taste even better. To be quite honest, I don’t worry about it too much as I have found this hard to mess up- I’ve always been pleased with my end result.
The characteristic of the Italian meringue that sets it apart from the others is the process in which the sugar is incorporated into the egg whites. For an Italian meringue, you start by making a simple syrup with sugar and water that is heated to 240F before it is slowly added to your already beaten egg whites. To make approximately 4 cups of meringue, you’ll start with 1 cup of granulated sugar.
To this you want to add some water, about 1/2 cup- just enough to make your sugar look like really wet sand.
Now unless you are one of those wizards who can tell what temperature your sugar syrup is at by testing how a small drop of the syrup balls up, you’ll want a thermometer. It does not have to be a fancy thermometer- a simple candy thermometer or even an instant read thermometer- just something to tell you the temperature of the syrup.
Once you have your thermometer set, get this on the stove and turn the burner on medium low and continuously stir until all the sugar has dissolved. At this point, turn up the burner to medium high and let it come to a boil. The mixture will take several minutes to get up to temperature (you are aiming for 240F), so now is a good point to get your egg whites ready.
Speaking of egg whites, let me add a quick aside. Although you will be adding an extremely hot syrup to the whites, it will not fully pasteurize your egg whites. There’s really no reason to be uneasy about this, but if you are, I’ve successfully made this many times with the pasteurized egg whites you can buy in cartons. Using fresh egg whites, I’ve found, does yield a slightly more silky textured meringue, but really only noticeable in a side-by-side with some very discerning tongues. I use pasteurized egg whites all the time in recipes that call for beaten egg whites (see here, and here) and I’m always pleased with the results.
Now back to business: add 4 egg whites (or about 3/4 cup pasteurized egg whites) and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter to the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until foamy peaks start to form. The time it takes for your eggs to get to this stage largely depends on the temperature of your egg whites: cold egg whites straight from the refrigerator will take a few minutes longer; room temperature egg whites reach this stage in just 2 or so minutes.
If you are very experienced with meringues, you might be able to time this perfectly- your sugar syrup reaching temperature at the exact moment that your egg whites have beaten to foamy peaks. I’ve never quite gotten that right, so I usually just turn off my mixer and let my egg whites hang out for a bit while I check on my syrup. You really don’t want the reverse to happen: your syrup is ready but your egg whites aren’t. If you remove your syrup from the stove but aren’t ready to pour it immediately into the beaten egg whites, it starts to cool and thicken pretty quickly and you won’t be able to pour it. So better to err on the side of having your egg whites ready before your sugar syrup.
Once the temperature reaches 240F, remove your sugar syrup from the stove and immediately start pouring it into your egg whites with the mixer on LOW. Folks- this is HOT, sticky and sweet and it will be splattered from your head down to your feet if your mixer is on high. If you want to be extra careful, you can drape a kitchen towel over your mixer to assure nothing splatters around. I’ve found, though, that drizzling the syrup along the side of the bowl with my mixer on low keeps everything safely contained in my mixer bowl.
Once you’ve drizzled in all your sugar syrup, turn your mixer up to medium speed and continue to beat the meringue until the bottom of your bowl is no longer hot to the touch, about 4 or 5 minutes. At this point, I like to flavor it a bit. Typically just a teaspoon of vanilla extract is what I reach for, but the sky’s the limit, really. Add an extract of your choosing (if you wish) and beat it in on medium speed, just for about 10 seconds to incorporate the extract.
Now stop your mixer and take a look at your meringue. The longer you beat it, the stiffer it will become. So if you want soft, silky peaks that will curl, your meringue may be perfect as is and not need any further beating. If I’m planning to top a pie, for instance, this is what I like. You can pile it on top of your pie and get nice, pretty curls. If I am frosting a cake, however, I actually like really stiff peaks- I find it a bit easier to apply to the cake, especially to the sides where I’m fighting gravity. So I’ll usually beat the meringue for a few extra minutes- only 2 or 3 max- for a stiffer and more stable end result.
So thick, yet light, and perfectly sweet- just right to complement so many of your baked goods. It takes just minutes to prepare, is quite stable at room temperature and can be made 1-2 days ahead of time and refrigerated. If you’ve shied away from meringues before, give this a try. You’ll be surprised just how easy it is.
Stay tuned: I didn’t just post a meringue recipe for the heck of it. This will go to very good use in my next post- just in time for your 4th of July weekend!
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 4 egg whites (room temperature preferred, but cold egg whites work well too)*
- ½ teaspoon cream of tarter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- Combine sugar and water in a small heavy bottom sauce pan. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan.
- With the burner on medium-low, continually stir sugar and water until all sugar has dissolved.
- Turn heat up to medium-high and allow sugar syrup come to a boil.
- In the meantime, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites and cream of tarter.
- With mixer on medium speed, beat egg whites and cream of tarter until foamy soft peaks start to form, about 2-5 minutes.
- Once soft peaks have formed, turn mixer off.
- Check on the sugar syrup. Once the temperature has reached 240F, remove from heat and, with the mixer on low, gradually pour the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites.
- Once all the sugar syrup has been added, turn up the mixer to medium and continue to beat the meringue until the bowl of the mixer is no longer hot to the touch, about 4-6 minutes.
- Add vanilla extract (if using) and beat for another 10 seconds to incorporate.
- If you wish for soft, silky peaks, your meringue is likely ready at this point. If you want more stiff peaks, continue to beat on medium speed until desired stiffness is reached.
*I have also used pasteurized egg whites (sold in cartons) for this with fantastic results. ¾ cup pasteurized egg whites is equivalent to 4 egg whites.
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats