Monday, September 14, 2015

Baking Basics: whipping egg whites

I realised the other day that though I post heaps of recipes in the hopes that you can share in the deliciousness, some of them have techniques in them that aren't necessarily obvious, so I've decided to do a series on some of the basics of baking.

For many of you I'm sure this is second nature (though you might be able to offer extra tips that I've skipped), but not everyone has a chance to learn this stuff, so I figured before I go sharing the incredible cherry chocolate meringues we scoffed over the weekend perhaps I should run through how to whip your egg whites up.

Fat is the enemy of fluffy egg whites, so its important to ensure that your beaters and bowl are good and clean. They will whip up a bit quicker in a stainless steel bowl, whereas plastic, whilst it'll work, can be a bit slower.

These trusty beaters have produced many delicious pavlovas

I use electric hand beaters, but a stand mixer makes the job even easier (just watch closely), and a rotary hand beater or whisk will do the trick as well, with a bit more effort on your part.

It's best if your eggs are at room temperature, so if you keep them in the fridge its better if you take them out a couple of hours ahead of using them. Slightly old egg whites are more stable, which is good news if you made custard a few days ago and haven't used the whites yet, but freshly cracked is fine.

Do make sure there is no trace of yolk. I prefer to separate eggs with a three bowl system - one bowl for the white of the egg I'm working on, one for yolks, and one to transfer the whites into once successfully separated. This means if you break a yolk and it gets mixed up with the white you can set that egg aside (omelette for lunch, perhaps?) but the rest of your egg whites remain usable.

Ready? Fire up your beaters!


There are a few different stages in this process. The gentlest stage is when the egg whites are foamy and bubbly but don't hold their shape at all.

Then there's soft peaks, which means when you take the beater out of the bowl a soft peak will form, but after a few seconds will sink back into oblivion. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of this because multi-tasking distracted me at the key moment. Sorry!

Firm peaks stand up when you remove the beater but soon flop over onto the rest of the fluff.

And finally, stiff peaks are, well, stiff peaks.

You can go too far; the egg whites will lose their gloss and look almost grainy (mine above are on the brink - if you look at the edge of the bowl you can see it's beginning to lose its gloss). Evidently adding an extra unbeaten egg white can redeem you if this happens, but I haven't tried it so can't vouch for this trick.

Once beaten, egg whites are not stable so you need to beat them as you need them, They can be set aside for a few minutes, but if you try to do as I once did and prep the ingredients, then go out for a couple of hours and come back to put together your dish... Well, it might not end so well.

Adding sugar makes them more stable. Depending on what you're making, sugar is added at different stages, too - for my meringues the egg whites need to be at the stiff peak stage first but different recipes have different techniques (e.g. macarons, which you only beat until foamy before adding sugar). Generally it does need to be gradually incorporated, though, to ensure it can fully dissolve. You don't need to spend years on this step, just beat for a few seconds (3-5) between each spoonful of sugar.

And there you have it! Beautiful glossy meringue.

I'd love to know if there are any techniques you'd like me to cover here - and also if you have any extra tips if you're an egg white pro. And check back tomorrow for the meringue recipe - I mentioned the chocolate, right? ;-)

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