It’s Not So Much the What, But the How

Reader Neil asks if it’s the proportion of sugar in a meringue that primarily determines its texture. There’s no question the amount of sugar is a big part of it, Neil, though process is also important. As a general rule, the earlier you add sugar to your egg whites the smaller the bubbles will be in the foam and the finer and denser your meringue will be. You can create an extremely light — though not terribly stable — meringue by folding powdered sugar into a finished egg white foam. By contrast you can make a very thick, glossy and stable meringue by combining egg whites with sugar or sugar syrup at the outset and whipping them both together (Swiss Meringue works this way). Most meringues are somewhere in the middle: you whip your whites to the soft peak stage or so, then add sugar to finish. The result is a sturdy, general-purpose meringue that’s good for a lot of things. Great question, Neil!

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2 Responses to It’s Not So Much the What, But the How

  1. bigbeargillis says:

    Hi Joe!
    Love your blog. I had a question you might know the answer to.
    When it comes to chiffon style cakes, i.e. Japanese cheesecakes and the sort, what is the best way to whip up the most stable meringue? I usually add all the sugar at the outset for stability and I’ve tried soft peaks, medium peak to hard peak but my cakes generally end up sinking a bit. Is it true that you you should only beat them to just before stiff peak to give room for the bubbles to expand but not burst, which would happen in a stiffer meringue and cause a cake to sink? Hasn’t made much of a difference for me and I was wondering if it was really true, fussiness, or an assumption? Love the blog, I’ve made so much from it already. I blame your wonderful blog on my weight gain!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Big Bear!

      Sorry for the delay! Thank you so much for all the kind words and my regrets on the extra pound or two (happens to us all from time to time).

      On the meringue, as a general rule that sort of collapse is due to over-whipping. There are so many air cells that you get a big rise, but the structure underneath gets weak — the walls of the bubbles aren’t thick enough to hold the cake up. As a result, it falls. I’d say keep up with the strategy of adding sugar early, but stop whipping at the soft peak stage and see what happens. I think you’ll find you have a more stable cake. Best of luck and get back to me with the results!

      - Joe

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