I remember that my first attempt at making meringues ended with the meringue mixture oozing out of the oven in a lazy trail; I'm not quite sure how I managed to achieve that but luckily, my subsequent attempts were a lot more successful.
Many home bakers are daunted at the prospect of making meringues because they have a reputation for being particularly temperamental. In fact, if you follow a few tips meringue behaves in an incredibly predictable fashion. Just follow these tips that we use in our meringue bakery every day.
Clean your equipment. This doesn't mean a cursory wipe with a paper towel! Every morning before we start working in our kitchen we thoroughly wash everything that will come into contact with our meringue with hot soapy water even if we have washed it the afternoon before. Why? Because just one molecule of fat can ruin your meringue. Remember this mantra "Egg whites hate fat."
Use a stand mixer. This is not the time to use that delicate hand whisk that you use to froth up some cream. Egg whites need serious muscle. Treat them right and you will be rewarded.
Weigh your ingredients- no cup measures please- do it right the first time.
The ratio of sugar to egg should be 2:1; that means if you are using 30g of egg whites you should use 60g of sugar in that recipe
Use bakers sugar- the superfine texture is important- if you don't have any on hand (I never keep this in stock in my home kitchen) blitz some sugar in your food processor.
Do spring for some cream of tartar- I know its expensive but its worth it.
If you don't have cream of tartar and don't want to make a special trip to the store (I wouldn't) wipe down your clean mixing bowl and balloon whisk with a cut lemon or some vinegar
Warm your sugar in a hot oven. Yes, five minutes in a hot oven will mean your sugar will melt faster in your egg whites- this is a good thing- especially if you have a life and want to do more with your day than stand peering into a bowl of egg whites. Although, staring intently at a bowl of whisking egg whites is something I do every day (multiple times a day) and I find it rather meditative, so go right ahead!
Turn down said oven to 200º F as soon as you remove the sugar. Open the oven door and allow it to cool rapidly. Your oven should not be higher than 200ºF when the meringues go in.
Whisk your egg whites to stiff peaks before you start adding your heated sugar.
Add your sugar slowly- one tablespoon at a time- be patient- this is the time to catch up on your social media or text a friend.
When all your sugar has been added, turn your mixer on high and whisk till all the sugar has dissolved. Make yourself a cup of coffee, take a nap, start a blog; this will take a while.
After at least five minutes of whisking, if your mixture is showing stiff glossy peaks (see the picture) rub a tiny bit between your fingers to make sure that it is not gritty. If you can still feel grains of sugar in the mixture it means that the meringue needs to whisk longer.
DO NOT over whip your meringue mixture. Yes this can happen. Stop when its still glossy and pretty. If it looks like cotton wool you've over whisked it- it will still taste good but it will look ugly. This can happen to the best of us. I have occasionally had to throw away a mixture because I took an extra long tea break while the meringue was being whisked.
You will know when your meringues are ready to come out of the oven when they lift easily from the parchment (oh yes, line your baking sheet with parchment).
With these easy steps I can assure you that you will be able to create these feather-light, fat free, dairy free and gluten free treats at home. If you have questions or run into issues let me know. I'll be happy to walk you through.