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A foam of beaten egg whites and sugar. Egg foams were used in pastries much earlier, but the name meringue came from a pastry chef named Gasparini in the Swiss town of Merhrinyghen. In 1720, Gasparini created a small pastry of dried egg foam and sugar from which the simplified meringue evolved. Its fame spread and Marie Antoinette is said to have prepared the sweet with her own hands at the Trianon in France.

The most critical factor in making meringue is humidity. Because it has a high sugar content, meringue can absorb moisture from the air and become limp and sticky. For best results, make meringue on a bright, dry day.

Be sure that beaters and bowls are clean and completely free of fat or oil because the least bit of fat will prevent beaten egg whites from reaching their full volume. As plastic bowls tend to absorb fat, use only metal or glass bowls.

After separating eggs, allow the whites to stand at room temperature about 20 to 30 minutes before beating so they will reach their fullest volume.

Beat the whites with cream of tartar, using 1/8 teaspoon for each 2 egg whites, until foamy. (Cream of tartar lends stability to egg foams). When foamy, gradually beat in the sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. Continue beating until the sugar is dissolved and soft peaks form. (If the sugar is not completely dissolved, the meringue will be gritty. Rub just a bit of the meringue between your thumb and forefinger to feel if the sugar has dissolved).

There are several kinds of meringues; each suited to a special use. The differences are in the ratio of egg whites to sugar, the method of mixing or the method of cooking.

Soft Meringue

Used to top pies and puddings. The usual ingredient ratio is 2 tablespoons of sugar to each egg white. Beat the meringue until soft peaks form, then swirl it over a hot, precooked pie filling or pudding. Sometimes, after baking, liquid accumulates between the meringue and the filling. You can minimize this weeping if the filling is hot when you put the meringue on it. To keep a pie meringue from shrinking during baking, make sure the meringue touches the edge of the crust or the dish all around. A 3-egg-white meringue will cover a 9-inch pie.

In a preheated 350°F (177°C) oven, bake a pie topped with a 3-egg-white meringue until the meringue reaches 160°F (71°C) and the meringue peaks are lightly browned, about 12 to 15 minutes. For a meringue containing more egg whites, bake in a preheated 325°F (163°C) oven until the meringue reaches 160°F (71°C) and the peaks are lightly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. After cooling, refrigerate meringue-topped pies until serving and return leftovers to the refrigerator.


Hard or Swiss Meringue

Used as a confection or a foundation for fillings of fruits or puddings. The usual ingredient ratio is 4 tablespoons of sugar to each egg white. Beat until stiff peaks form.

You can bake a meringue on a baking sheet greased with unsalted shortening (not oil) or on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper, brown paper or foil. Depending on how you intend to use a hard meringue, you can pipe it through a pastry tube, shape it gently with a spoon or spatula, or bake it a greased pie plate, cake pan or springform pan.

Meringue baked in a pie plate forms a delicate crust for fillings, such as chocolate or lemon, and the result is often known as Angel Pie. Meringue baked in a cake or springform pan is often served with whipped cream and fruit and is called Schaum Torte or Pavlova.

Depending on the oven temperature and baking time, you can vary the texture of the finished meringue from dry and crisp to chewy. If you bake or, more properly, dry, a meringue in a preheated 225°F (107°C) oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until a cake tester or wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, it will be white, dry and crisp. For complete drying, turn off the oven and leave the meringue in the oven for at least an hour longer. Dry a shorter time to produce a chewier center. For a light golden hue, bake at 250°F (121°C) for less time or until the center is done as you wish.

You can store hard meringues for several months in a tightly sealed container with waxed paper between the layers. If the meringue loses its crispness, reheat it in a preheated 250°F (121°C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes.


Italian Meringue

Also known as Boiled Frosting and used to frost cakes, as a topping like soft meringue or as a base for frozen desserts and may also be baked like hard meringue or poached. When folded into whipped cream, Italian meringue becomes Chantilly Meringue, which may be combined with fruit as a filling for cream puffs or used as a frosting. To make Italian meringue, beat hot sugar syrup into beaten, cooked egg whites.

– See Raw Eggs

Poached Meringues

Also known as Snow Eggs or Oeufs a la Neige and often served with custard or fruit sauce. Poached meringues are also the islands in Floating Island pudding. You can poach soft, hard and Italian meringue mixtures.

To poach, drop the meringue mixture by spoonfuls onto simmering milk or water and simmer, uncovered, until firm, about 5 minutes. You don’t need to turn over smaller spoonfuls but large ones may require turning halfway through the cooking time. Remove the poached puffs from the liquid with a slotted spoon and drain them on absorbent paper. Chill the poached meringues until you serve them.