• Mont Blanc tarts (PEDEN + MUNK)Source: PEDEN + MUNK
While pavlova will always have a place in our hearts, it's worth considering the meringue has many other forms around the world.
Sue White

14 Feb 2020 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2020 - 12:23 PM

--- Enjoy a sweet taste of France at home with Guillaume Brahimi on Plat du Tour, each night at the start of the Tour de France exclusive broadcast on SBS from 29 August to 20 September 2020. For broadcast times, go to sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral ---


Macarons, pavlova, petit fours: they may all present differently but these sweet treats from the meringue family have something in common beyond eggs whites and sugar according to Ottolenghi's Helen Goh.

"It's a real hit without heft. You can eat a meringue without feeling like you've eaten a cake and want to lie down," says Goh.

Sweet dreams come to life for Yotam Ottolenghi and Melbourne's Helen Goh
The book full of must-have desserts that have all been given what Yotam Ottolenghi calls "the full Ottolenghi treatment". Where do we sign up?

Goh also appreciates the "ethereal" quality of meringues.

"There's something pure about the whiteness; you can then add fruit or chocolate to create a centrepiece…they are [also] delightful in how they take on colours and flavours," she says.

Meringues can be considered to have an ethereal quality.

French-born Jérôme Magisson, a patisserie chef with Le Cordon Bleu in Brisbane, agrees. He grew up in Europe and his own love of meringue dates back to his childhood. 

"French meringue comes in all different colours and flavours, and toppings vary by region. In the south, they top them with almonds, and in the north, they might use orange zest or strawberries," he says.

A chocolate version of French meringues

Italy, France and Switzerland have all staked their claim as the original home of meringues: even today each has its own style. 

"In France, meringues are made of egg whites, caster sugar and icing sugar, and we bake it to dry it. It creates a texture that is extremely light and crunchy," Magisson says. In Italy, egg whites are whipped before a hot mixture of syrup made of water and sugar is poured over it to "cook" the egg.

"By doing so you create a foamy texture that is almost like a marshmallow," he says.

It's a real hit without heft. You can eat a meringue without feeling like you've eaten a cake and want to lie down."

In Switzerland, the method is closer to the French, but sugar and egg whites are warmed up slowly together in the bain-marie so the sugar dissolves into the egg white before being whipped and baked.

"It's a more dense and shiny meringue. It's also more foolproof than the French meringue. If you don't do the French meringue properly, after baking the sugar can dissolve with the humidity in the air to leave just pearls of sugar. It's a bit more technical," he says.

Swiss meringue buttercream

This buttercream is a joy to use. Glossy, smooth and easy to shape it is perfect for both piping and spreading with a palette knife or the back of a spoon. 

Magisson believes the dessert first emerged as a creative solution to the excess egg whites bakers found themselves stuck with. But regardless of origin claims, what interests Goh most about meringues is how it is used across cultures.

“In Italy, they have a delicious cookie called Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly But Good). It’s a meringue with nuts folded through it that are then piped or dolloped onto a tray. When it’s cooked it’s essentially a hard meringue,” she says.

In Eastern Europe, the meringue/nut combination continues, but here the result is cooked flat and turned into a type of cake featuring layers with buttercream.

"The Hungarians use walnuts and sandwich it with rum buttercream. It's very rich," says Goh, noting that in Russia the same process is used, this time with hazelnuts and a chocolate glaze.

The UK-based Goh also appreciates the flexibility of the Eton mess, a traditional English dessert that dates back over 100 years and turns crushed meringue, strawberries and cream into a pudding.

Dulce de leche Eton mess

This popular English dessert is given a Latin twist with Spanish caramel, banana and almonds.

"If you have meringues that aren't perfect, crush them and put them in a whisky balloon. It's yummy," suggests Goh.

As for the perfect meringue-making technique, suggestions abound, but for Goh it all comes down to timing.
"You can use copper bowls, make sure there's no trace of fats, use room temperature egg whites, and cream of tartar to stabilise, but if you start adding the sugar before the egg whites are at soft peaks you won't ever get it to rise. The sugar is heavy and will deflate them," she says.

Still, beware of whisking those same egg whites for too long before the sugar goes in (Goh adds it one spoonful at a time).

"Wait for too long and you'll just get crumbly sugar," she warns.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @suewhitewriter, Facebook @suewhitewriter.

15 ways to get creative with pav
What's an Aussie summer without a pav? Master your meringue and let the summer session roll on.
Move over Australia, this giant pavlova belongs to the Portuguese
This historic Portuguese pavlova is a giant, caramel-infused meringue pudding that has been making mouths water in Brisbane for around 30 years.
Chocolate French meringues

French meringues are the most forgiving to make of the meringue family, and have a long shelf life once sealed. Leave them whole, or crumble them over ice cream or whipped cream to serve.

Donna Hay's perfect pavlova

Summer is pavlova season. But there's no need to fear a mixture that splits before it’s even in the oven, weepy meringue or a cracked shell. Donna's here to help you achieve the ultimate pavlova.

Donna Hay's no-fail meringue mixture

To make sure your meringue is a success, here are Donna Hay's go-to meringue recipe and top tips to troubleshoot meringue mishaps. 

Lemon meringue massacre

A tangy lemon treat that will put a smile on even the sourest of dials.

Layered Turkish delight pavlova

The pink grapefruit in this pavlova has a lovely bitter flavour that cuts through the sweetness of the meringue and balances a rich meal. 

Layered cashew meringue cake (sans rival)

Chewy layers of cashew meringue are sandwiched with a rum-spiked buttercream to create this traditional Filipino dessert.