Step into any French pastry shop and somewhere in the display case you will see a pile of billowy, sugary sweet, vanilla scented confections: French pâtisserie meringues. Crisp and airy, they can range in size from small one bite cookies to giant plate-size clouds. For all their dainty glamour, these meringues are, incredibly, nothing more than whipped up bubbles of egg whites and sugar baked in a low oven for several hours.
Traditionally, the French like to flavor their pâtisserie meringues with a little vanilla, but these days you can find them scented with everything from cinnamon to something more exotic like rose water. The color and texture can be left au naturel or given a swirl of butterscotch, blueberry purée or a handful of pistachios to jazz things up. The featherweight meringue is then typically spooned into a whimsical nest or piped into a variety of elegant cookies, shapes or shells that after baking can be dipped in chocolate or sprinkled with toasted coconut or lavender sugar. A blank canvas for your culinary imagination.
Small pâtissierie meringues can be eaten on their own like a cookie and decorative shapes used to garnish other desserts like Buche de Noel. The larger meringues can be filled with ice cream or topped with fresh fruit and chantilly cream.
How to make classic French Meringue
- 6 egg whites room temperature
- 1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
- ¼ t cream of tartar
- ½ t salt
- 1 t vanilla
Preheat oven to 250 F
In a very clean bowl of a standing mixer, beat whites on medium speed until frothy, doubled in volume and not much liquid whites remaining, 2-3 minutes. Increase speed and gradually add sugar, drizzling it in by the spoonful. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.
Once the sugar is all in, add the tartar, salt and vanilla. Turn the mixer to high and beat another 4 to 5 minutes – don’t over-beat – whites should be glossy and smooth but not too stiff. When you dip a spoon in and then hold it up, the peak should have a little bit of a flop– too stiff and they will be dry. (If adding any other ingredients – nuts, berries, food coloring – fold them in now.)
Use a soup spoon to scoop the meringues onto a parchment lined baking sheet to form whimsical clouds or use a piping bag to form uniform cookies or kisses.
Bake 2 hours for medium size meringues; if making smaller shapes, reduce the cooking time to an hour or so. Meringues are done when they lift off parchment without sticking. Turn off the oven with the door ajar and leave the meringues to sit and cool for another 60 minutes.
This recipe will make 12 -14 medium size meringues and at least 2 dozen or more mini meringues. You can use them straight away or leave them to dry on the counter for several hours before storing.
Charlotte Puckette is a Grand Diplôme graduate of Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu, co-author of The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, as well as a private chef, caterer, cooking instructor, food consultant, and hostess.