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Meringue is an egg-based frosting that often appears atop pies and custards. The main feature that separates meringue from other frostings is its ability to hold fluffy peaks. One beats meringue ingredients until they form stiff but airy peaks, so meringue frosting is light, and it dissolves slowly as one eats it.
Meringues are common in the pastry world. The classic Baked Alaska dessert is a famous pastry creation that has a meringue topping. Other recipes that call for meringue range from simple lemon refrigerator pies to gourmet desserts and special candies.
To create a meringue frosting, one combines egg whites and sugar in specific proportions. Granulated sugar is the main sugar used for meringue. It is possible to beat meringue by hand, but one often has better results with an electric mixer. To form the meringue correctly, one must add only small amounts of sugar at a time. Adding more than a small amount of sugar at one time produces a meringue with a gritty texture.
Meringue is a delicate frosting that is much more difficult to make correctly than standard cake frosting typically is. Novice bakers generally have sufficient skills necessary to incorporate meringue frosting ingredients well enough to obtain satisfactory results. That's not guaranteed, however, and experienced bakers sometimes have difficulty making this frosting.
One can swirl meringue onto a pie or pastry by using a flat knife or frosting spreader. One can create a more sophisticated meringue application by forcing the meringue frosting through a piping bag. The piping bag allows one to create individual peaks of meringue frosting in a pattern of the baker’s choosing.
Eating raw meringue frosting is not considered safe, because raw eggs are often a source of salmonella. Cooking the eggs eliminates this bacterium. One needs to cook any pastry that has a meringue frosting for at least 15 minutes in an oven. The proper temperature setting for cooking meringue frosting is 350° Fahrenheit (176.6° Celsius).
Meringues also have applications as confections in some cuisines. These types of meringues may be prepared like a candy for holiday celebrations. This is a dry meringue, which is generally safe to eat when prepared using hot sugar syrup, because the hot syrup cooks the eggs during preparation.
Once cooked, one can freeze meringues for later use. The baker pipes the meringue onto a baking sheet, usually lined with parchment paper. Once the meringue sets, one packs the individual dollops of meringue into a freezer bag. While once-frozen meringue is edible, it doesn't have the same consistency as a whipped meringue that was never frozen.
I'm not a huge fan of meringue frosting, and even though I've been baking for well over half my life, the thought of attempting one is downright scary. That's something I'll leave to the professionals.
I like meringue candy -- the airy, fluffy kind. It's actually lower in sugar and fat than most candy, so it's often suitable for people on restricted diets.
Maybe one day I'll conquer my fear of meringues. There's just so much effort one puts into it, and the results are often not guaranteed.