Ask Peter: Chewy-centred meringues
Loved your mum’s perfect pav recipe, but can you give me a recipe or the method for meringues with a chewy centre? I have seen these for sale so I know I am not the only person who doesn’t like meringues with a marshmallow centre or a powdered brittle dry one. What is the combination required? I have a gas oven, is that relevant?
Thanks, Anne Bishop
Well, what I hadn’t written previously was that Mum also makes the best chewy meringues! I called her in Australia to get her handy hints and this is what she had to say.
“Use the same recipe as my pavlova but don’t add the vinegar or cornflour. It’s those two ingredients that create the marshmallow in the centre. Also, if you want them to be a little more golden in colour, keep the oven at 180C for 5 minutes, before dropping to 120C (for her pav she insists that the temperature be dropped immediately it goes in the oven). And those temperatures are for “non fan-forced’’ ovens, so drop them by 15C for fan-forced."
I followed mum’s instructions and they came out as described — golden, a little crispy but mostly chewy — and I served them with whipped cream and berries tossed with icing sugar and vanilla paste.
I also thought that, in the interests of research, I should see what other methods are out there on the internet. While several recipes were as mum said — cornflour and vinegarless — there were also chewy meringues that included them.
There are only so many meringues a man can eat, so I didn’t test these others, but certain themes came through.
You want to aim for 60g sugar for each egg white — no more and no less. It would seem that after beating the whites to soft peaks, and then slowly adding 50-75 per cent of the sugar bit by bit, you then fold the remaining sugar in at the end, rather than beat it all in as you would a pavlova. I assume this causes some of the sugar to be held in suspension in the meringue, and as it cooks, and then cools, the sugar must somehow cling together in among the dry brittleness to add some chewiness to the finished meringue.
I found recipes where you use half icing sugar and half caster sugar. Most recipes state that you should never use regular granulated sugar, the grains of which are much larger than caster sugar — although I’ve successfully made demerara sugar meringues so maybe that isn’t entirely true.
In all recipes, the oven should be set to 100C, so mum’s hot oven to start would seem to be her special twist and that’s what gives hers such a lovely caramel colour.
Apart from those slight differences, make sure the bowl and whisk are completely spotless and no grease is present (which stops the whites aerating fully and properly), bake on proper baking paper, never a greased tray, and leave to cool once cooked, before storing in an airtight container.
So all that’s left is how to make them fabulous with a topping or filling. As they are sweet, it makes sense to use something less sweet as the topping.
I like whipping 1 cup cream with ½ cup plain (or flavoured) yoghurt and a few teaspoons runny honey — this gives the cream a richness, but the yoghurt makes it less sickly sweet.
Topping with a mixture of ½ cup mascarpone beaten until firm with ½ cup cream is also fabulous, it gives a much stiffer topping (or filling) which holds longer.
Sour or tangy fruit work really well with either of these creams, so if you want to top with an apple compote, just make sure you don’t add too much sugar to it while it’s cooking: keep it a little sharp.
For something quite different, melt 100g chocolate (white, milk or dark) in a bowl over warm water. Once it’s fully melted take off the heat and stir in 100ml runny double cream and leave to firm up. Add 150g mascarpone and gently whip till peaky and dollop on your meringues — you’ll be in foodie heaven!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.