Italian, French or Swiss meringue – what are the differences and which should I use when?

Italian, French or Swiss meringue – how are these meringue different and which is best to use when. Below is an overview of each method and which is best suited for different uses.

Italian, French or Swiss meringue
My grandmother made beautiful meringues. Crisp on the outside, tacky on the inside, they were a beautiful light peachy colour. She passed these skills to her daughters. I can’t remember a family party which didn’t have a bowl piled high with these light, sweet, perfect meringue. I tried to make meringues a few years ago and they didn’t work out. I made sweet biscuits not meringue. Recently one of my aunts was staying and I decided I needed to revisit meringues. I needed to learn how to make them. We started separating eggs and fifteen minutes later the meringue were in the oven. We ate them that evening. I was thrilled with them, they were just as my grandmother would have made.

I then wanted to add flavours, so I got reading to help me understand how to do this. Suddenly things got more complicated. There were three different types of meringue, Italian, French or Swiss meringue, which one was I making? Should I be making a different type of meringue, what were the properties and techniques for each.

I started researching and here’s a summary of what I found out so you can decide whether to make Italian, French or Swiss meringue.

Name: Italian meringue
Use: Shaped meringue and meringue icing
Technique: Water and sugar are boiled together to 120°C/248°F making a syrup. Egg whites are whisked to the stiff peak stage. The syrup is then poured into the egg white while an electric whisk works away whisking. You keep on whisking until the mixture is cool, which can take 15 minutes depending on your quantities. It can now be used as an icing or baked in the oven.
Pros: The heated syrup cooks the egg white, meaning that the mixture is very stable, so it can wait until you are ready to use it. It will last as an icing in the fridge for a few days. Alternatively you can make elaborate shapes with Italian meringue which doesn’t spread in the oven.
Cons: This method is more involved than the other two ways of making meringue and some people say it produces a chalkier meringue than the French version.

Name: French meringue
Use: Little meringues and large pavlovas
Technique: Eggs whites are whipped until they form stiff peaks. Caster sugar is then added a little at a time and the mixture is whisked until it is shiny and stiff. These are then put on lined baking sheet and cooked in a coolish oven. To get the tacky insides, you turn the oven off and don’t take them out until the oven is completely cold.
Pros: Quick and easy to prepare. Makes meringue that is hard on the outside and tacky on the inside.
Cons: These meringues may not hold their shape perfectly as they can spread a little in the oven. It is best to wait until the oven is completely cold before you remove them.

Name: Swiss meringue
Use: Lemon meringue and other pie toppings
Technique: Eggs whites and icing sugar are whisked together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.   The air is added to the egg whites and sugar at the same time and so far less air is added than with the other methods. This creates a gooey texture.
Pros: Great for topping pies.
Cons: Not as light as the Italian or French meringue, a different consistency.


Italian, French or Swiss meringueThe meringue my grandmother, mother, aunts and now myself make is French meringue. I’ve made this meringue for a BBQ for my birthday, a camping trip, a dinner party with friends. They are easy to make, super tacky inside and perfect with cream and fruit.

My rule of thumb for ingredients is:
1 large egg white
2 oz / 50 g caster sugar
½ tbsp flavouring.

This makes 7 meringues each about the size of half a tennis ball. 1 large egg white will weigh around 2 oz / 50 g, so you are simply matching the amount of egg white with the amount of sugar. This is useful to know if you want to scale up this recipe. Any flavouring should be dry such as nuts, cocoa, coconut, etc. I’ve tried wet flavourings and they don’t work as well.

I use sunflower oil to prevent the meringue from sticking on the paper. I have forgotten to do this occasionally and lost a meringue to the paper as a result, but normally only one, so if you forget to do this don’t worry. I use sunflower oil not olive, because it has less taste.

Make sure the bowl and your whisk are super clean grease free. Some people wipe a cut lemon over the bowl to ensure all grease is removed.
Italian, French or Swiss meringueSeparating the eggs is the next job.   You need three bowls for this. A big one that you will whisk the egg white in; a bowl for the egg yolks and a bowl that you first break the eggs over. By breaking the eggs over a different bowl from the other two, if you burst the yolk while separating the egg, you can put the whole lot into this bowl and discard it. When this doesn’t happen, you put the yolk in the yolk bowl and then egg white in the big bowl and then break the next egg. If you do burst the yolk, make sure you discard the egg and then clean the bowl to ensure absolutely no yolk contaminates the white.
Italian, French or Swiss meringueTo beat the egg white, I use an electric whisk. If you have a standalone mixer that would be ideal, but I don’t have one of those. I haven’t made meringue using a balloon whisk, but I would think with strong arms and lots of patience that would be possible. The eggs whites need to be beaten until they pass these two tests: first, they form soft peaks and second, you can hold the bowl upside down and they won’t fall out.
Holly-cooks-meringue-whipped-egg-white-and-sugarOnce you have soft peaks it’s time for the caster sugar. Add in the sugar about a third at a time and whisk well after each addition making the mixture smooth and glossy. If you are making meringue with different flavours now is the time to separate the egg and sugar into the number of bowls you need and then add the flavours, stirring them in with a metal spoon. If your flavours are a different colour – cocoa for example – you may prefer not to completely combine all the egg mixture with the cocoa to give an attractive swirled effect on the meringue.

Now using a tablespoon spoon the mixture onto the greased paper and pop straight in the oven. The oven should already be preheated to the cool at 150°C / 130°C fan / 300°F / gas mark 2, you then turn it down to 140°C / 120°C / 285°F / gas mark 1 when the meringue go into the oven. You have to trust me that 35 minutes is the right timing. Don’t open the oven door during cooking, you want to keep all that heat in there. In fact once the time is up, continue to keep them in the oven, until it is completely cold. So you need to make the meringue in the morning for that evening, or at night for the next day.

Peel off the greaseproof paper and store in an air tight container until needed. They will last for at least a week.

After researching and trying lots of different flavour combinations I came up with chocolate meringue and pecan ones and then just to be really decedent chocolate and pecan mixed together in one meringue.  They are all French meringue, so all super easy and so so good.

Here is the recipe: Chocolate, pecan and chocolate and pecan French meringue >>
Italian, French or Swiss meringue

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