The stable and versatile Italian meringue can be used as is for frosting, and is stiff enough to hold its shape when piped.
It can be made into a buttercream with the addition of softened butter after the meringue is whipped until completely cool. The meringue by itself can incorporate a small amount of liquid extracts for flavoring, or even more in the way of paste, such as a vanilla paste or scraped vanilla bean. And it can incorporate a decent amount of melted and completely cooled chocolate, though it must set a bit before piping, which can be achieved by letting the meringue rest or by continuing to whip the freshly-made meringue on a medium speed until chocolate has set and meringue is slightly firmer.
Size the ingredients up or down however much you'd like, though I don't recommend trying to make it with any fewer than two egg whites as it might be more difficult with a small amount. But you're free to experiment, as always.
- 8 oz (226 g) sugar, reserve a small spoonful
- 2 oz (56 g) water, this is also 1/4 C or 50 ml by volume, so you don't need much
- 4 oz (113 g) egg whites, room temperature
- This can be 3 or 4 eggs, hence using weight measurements.
- 1/2 tsp cream of tarter or a pinch of powdered citric acid
- Citric acid is 8x as powerful as cream of tartar. In small amounts, you need not be so picky about reducing the amount, though I still recommend reducing it by at least half, or you may somewhat taste the acidity in the final meringue.
- And another pinch of cream of tartar or citric acid
- Start by separating your egg whites.
- You will want to do this while they are cold, or the yolks will be too soft and easily broken. I suggest separating each white into a small bowl and, once successfully separated with no yolk, shell, or other odd pieces of matter that you sometimes find inside of an egg, pour it into your large bowl that you will be making the meringue in. I like to also remove the chalaza, which is the white bundle of tough fibers that connects the yolk to the shell, as it doesn't break down easily.
- Mixing bowl note. It must not be aluminum, as that is a reactive metal. Try to use a thin stainless steel bowl if possible, because ceramic and glass retain heat longer, and this meringue relies on whipping it until it's cool.
- Let the egg whites sit in the bowl until room temperature, or set them over a pot of hot water for a couple minutes until no longer cold to the touch.
- If you're experienced at whipping egg whites, you can do that after the next step, putting your sugar/water mixture on the stovetop. If you're not experienced, do it now so that it's not under a stressful time crunch as your syrup cooks.
- To whip the whites, start your electric mixer on a lowish speed until they get a little bit foamy. Then add your reserved spoonful of sugar and your 1/2 tsp cream of tartar or pinch of citric acid. Bump up the speed of the mixer a little until you reach a soft peak stage. Then stop and proceed to the sugar syrup.
- A useful note: When whipping either egg whites or cream or anything for which the purpose is to build volume by mixing in air, you may start on a low speed and increase the speed as you go, but then don't go back down to a lower speed as it could cause loss of volume.
- Sugar Syrup: In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan if you have it, pour the water and sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar or citric acid. No need to stir. Cover with a lid and set over med-high heat until you hear it boil. Leave it for another minute or until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture appears clear.
- Covering the pot allows the steam of the mixture to drip down the sides of the pot to wash away any errant sugar crystals, which are a curse to candy-making, producing crystallization. By adding an acid, you've already taken a step to prevent crystallization, but better safe than sorry.
- It's always good practice to use a pot appropriate to the amount of sugar you're cooking. It should come no more than halfway up the pot to leave room for foaming and hot, spitting sugar. Yet at the same time, don't use a pot that is too large as the surface area for evaporation will be large and may cause the temp to climb faster than you're prepared for.
- Once the sugar is dissolved, take the lid off and clip a candy thermometer to the pot. Turn the heat down to medium and once the temperature rises to 245 or 248 F (118 - 120 C), remove the pot from the heat and turn off the burner.
- Now is the time for speed and also safety. You need to slowly pour your hot syrup into your egg whites while mixing at a high speed. Avoid pouring directly onto the beater and the side of the bowl. This can be achieved in two ways. One, simultaneous pouring and mixing at high speed either with a helper or by your own cunning. Or two, pour a tiny bit in with the mixer off then immediately whip on high speed for a couple second. Then pour a larger amount in and do the same until it's all incorporated. Whichever way, make sure to use a spatula to retrieve the last of the sugar from the pot.
- Once incorporated, keep whipping on high until the bowl is cool to the touch. A couple minutes in, you should see and feel the mixture turn significantly thicker so that it holds its shape and distinct lines. Keep whipping until cool, which will take a number of minutes and depend on the amount of meringue you're making and the material of the bowl you're using.
- Once cool, you may add any flavor additions, such as 1 tsp of vanilla to turn it into marshmallow fluff.
- The best time to use it for piping or frosting is immediately. It can sit out on the counter or in the fridge or freezer, though once you start messing with it again by stirring or whipping or mixing in any way, you risk deflating it somewhat and making it it more fluid. Honestly, it will still hold it's shape quite well (I've done it), but the very best quality will be had from using it right away.
If you want to scale the recipe at all, say you have 3 egg whites that equal just over 4 oz, just remember that the total sugar in the recipe should be twice as much as the total weight of egg whites.
Very small adjustments in the amount of sugar and whites should not change the amount of acidic ingredients used, as these are somewhat arbitrary and also negligible, as a very experienced baker could get away with not including them at all. They do, however, provide a nice assurance and a cushion against small errors in whipping or syrup making.
Experiment with flavor add-ins, but avoid anything watery or juicy. Happy baking!
Recipe by Home With Love at https://homewithlove.us/italian-meringue-some-lessons-learned/