How to: Swiss meringue

I didn’t get nervous about the Swiss meringue until I saw the polyester sleeve of my mother’s dressing gown dangling perilously close to the flame flying out of the blowtorch.

Let me start at the beginning. When we decided to make cakes for my mother’s birthday, I went with my usual method of imagining something and deciding to leap in without being fully sure of my method. It sounds like a reckless process when I write it down like that, but “Eh, I’ll learn by trying” has served me pretty well so far.

What I didn’t realise when I pictured a cake topped with fluffy meringue, piped tips torched golden, is that Swiss meringue is notoriously finicky. Thanks to reactions between proteins that I don’t completely understand and definitely can’t pronounce, Swiss meringue can be both unstable and less fluffy than you’d hope. It can weep. It can collapse. If I’d known this, I might have been nervous earlier than when I had visions of my hand flying off to the left and setting the kitchen on fire.

Thankfully, using this method, the meringue – and I – did not weep or collapse. Instead, it came out glossier than a show horse, and once I’d moved that pesky sleeve out of the way, turned the most glorious golden colour after being kissed by a blowtorch.


3 large egg whites
150g granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Place the whites and sugar in a large (non-plastic) bowl and whisk together.
  2. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water, place over medium heat, and pop the bowl on top to create a bain marie.
  3. Heat the egg white mixture until the sugar dissolves and it is pretty warm to the touch (about 50C). Lightly whisk it constantly, and scrape down the sides to avoid missing any sugar crystals,
  4. Once warm, remove the bowl from the saucepan and use an electric whisk to beat on high until the egg mixture comes to medium-stiff glossy peaks. Add in the salt and vanilla and mix to combine. Use immediately, either to frost the outside of a cake or piped into the top. Use a blowtorch to get that gold, maintaining a distance of about 8 inches and passing over the meringue rather than holding the flame in one place.