A lot of people are quite scared of making meringues. They prefer to buy the rock hard, dried up ones in the supermarket which shatter as soon as you bite into them. This is not how a meringue should be; the perfect meringue should have a crisp shell on the outside, containing a wonderfully fluffy marshmallow-like centre. You can only get this if you make it yourself, which can seem a bit daunting, but follow these few rules and you will always end up with a great meringue.
The first thing to remember is that the amount of sugar must be half that of the amount of eggs whites. For example, if you are using 6 egg whites, you must use 300g of sugar. This means you do not need a recipe for meringues or go out and buy a whole box of eggs because you think you don’t have enough-simply use what you have.
A rough guide is that 5-6 egg whites will make a pavlova for about 8 people, but just 2 egg whites will make enough for 4 individual meringues or enough for an Eton Mess.
The rules for making a cooking meringue are quite simple.
1) The bowl you use has to be spotless; any grease or dirt will stop the eggs from holding together when whipped. I normally have a half dried out lemon in my fridge; this is perfect to wipe the bowl with to get rid of anything lurking.
2) Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks first. This simply means until they are a white bubbly mound and hold their shape when you remove the whisk or beater. Then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, otherwise it will not blend properly, until the mixture is beautifully shiny.
3) Add some vinegar. This sounds crazy, but this is what makes the meringue fluffy inside. You only need a tiny amount, so 1 tsp for a 6 egg white meringue.
4) Oven temperatures; put the meringue into a fairly hot oven to start (about 180°C), then immediately turn it down to 140°C. Cook for at least an hour to dry out the crust and then turn the oven off, leave the oven door very slightly ajar and leave to cool completely.