Meringue is one type of dessert that appeared originally in France although it is believed that Gasparini, an Italian chef, invented meringue sometime between the 17th and early 18th centuries in the town of Meiringen in Switzerland.
Meringue is a very sweet and light dessert, which is also considered a candy. It is generally made from sugar and whipped egg whites. The typical measurement is half a cup of caster sugar and 2 beaten egg whites. Meringue recipes sometimes call for small amounts of flavor extracts, for example, half a teaspoon of almond and/or vanilla extracts. Basically, the sugar is dissolved into the beaten egg whites to make meringue. This mixture will harden when baked but easily melts in the mouth.
In the Italian version of making meringue, you will whip warm sugar syrup into gently beaten egg whites until this mixture is stiff. This version makes meringue that can be used without the need for cooking as the air will not let out for quite a while so you can use it on pies and other desserts.
Meringue is in fact often used as a substitute to the top crust of creamy pies. The most popular example of this is the lemon meringue pie. Some other examples are orange meringue pie, melon meringue pie, caramel and chilled grapefruit meringue pie, chocolate meringue pie, and apple meringue pie.
Meringue that is used as a pie topping has a softer texture than the baked ones intended to be eaten individually. The secret to a meringue pie topping is using a lesser amount of sugar in the meringue mix because sugar is what makes meringue crispy. To achieve a soft texture with lightly browned tops, cook the meringue at a higher temperature at less the time.
The key to making perfect meringue is in the correct whipping of the egg whites. You will know that you have done it right if the egg white foam form peaks or stays upright when it drips off a fork. Once you have achieved this, you can start stirring in the sugar.
Add the sugar gradually so that it dissolves into the egg white mixture. Although you can use table sugar, the best sugar to use is confectioner’s sugar because it is very fine and will dissolve much easier.
When storing baked meringues, it is important to keep moisture away because they will turn your dessert treats into gummy sugar pastes. A good idea is to place baked meringues in zip-locked bags but, keep in mind, not to refrigerate them.