March 25, 2017 10:00 am
Have you ever surrendered to the softness, simplicity and delicateness of meringue? Discover the secrets behind one of the most popular desserts in Europe!
Eggs and sugar. Sugar and eggs. If we were to carry out a study on which are the most-commonly found ingredients in European desserts, these two would very likely be in the top of the list. Together, eggs and sugar deliver a wide variety of textures, provide a never-ending range of sweet possibilities and boost and transform flavour when combined with other ingredients. One of the essential yet refined expressions of this mix is our beloved meringue, which apparently took its name from the Swiss town of Meiringen, where in the 17th Century a crafted pastry chef allegedly baked it for the first time.
Meringue is the resulting process of beating egg whites and gently blending them with sugar, but although this might seem easy, the truth is that achieving a perfect consistent -yet soft- meringue is not an easy endeavour. In fact, there are three different recipes for meringue attributed to three different European countries, i.e. Switzerland, France and Italy.
The three recipes of reference use egg whites and sugar, but what makes them different is the way in which these two master ingredients are handled and mixed. The type of sugar, the heat applied to the resulting white foam and even the occasional introduction of extra ingredients to enhance flavour are some of the variables that influence the final meringue, merengue (in Spanish) or meringa (in Portuguese).
The Swiss recipe uses a pan placed over boiling water (but without actually being in touch with the water) for beating the egg whites together with the sugar. The result is a dense meringue, often used as frosting. Par contre, the recipe for French meringue, often considered as common or plain meringue, states that sugar must not be added until the beaten egg whites form the characteristic foamy peaks. This version is mostly used to fill in pastry shells or as a cake layer, although it can also be baked to obtain other tempting desserts, such as soufflés or lady fingers. The Italian recipe also beats the egg whites before adding a pre-heated sugar syrup that results in a very consistent meringue used as frosting as well as a complement for other desserts.
But meringue is also present and used in other European countries. In Greece, for instance, meringue is used to create rosette-shaped sweets called maregakia or bezedes (μαρεγκάκια ή μπεζέδες). The recipe basically uses egg whites and fine sugar, while vanilla extract is occasionally added to give it a tough of flavour. Following Greek tradition, this sweet is served when a couple is about to get engaged (not married) as a blessing for a “sweet” future life together.
Pavlova is another well-known dessert that uses meringue as a base. It was named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) in the 1920’s, although the origin of the recipe has been long disputed between Australia and New Zealand. In any case, Pavlova, which uses white vinegar and cornflour to achieve a crunchier consistency and which is often topped with whipped cream and wild berries, has become very popular in countries such as the United Kingdom.
What is your version of meringue? Do you use it in especial occasions too? We would love to hear about it.
Written by Doris Fernandes del Pozo – Journalist, Translator-Interpreter and Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, she is pursuing a PhD as part of the Communication and Contemporary Information Programme of the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and Katerina Palamioti – Translator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee and Foodie at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg.
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- BBC (2010) “Pavlova created in New Zealand not Australia, OED rules”, BBC News. Available at: http://bbc.in/2o0tChX (Accessed 24 March, 2017)
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- WikiBooks (2015) Meringues II. Available at: http://bit.ly/2nLOw79 (Accessed 24 March, 2017)
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