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Tiny Bubbles in the Egg Whites

August 04, 1994|JOAN DRAKE

Many recipes call for beating egg whites either until they are soft or form stiff peaks. This assumes that the cook is familiar with this technique, which may not be the case.

For beating egg whites, use a bowl made of glass, stainless steel, ceramic or unlined copper. Not recommended are aluminum, which will tint the egg whites gray, or plastic, which tends to retain traces of fat from previous uses (fat keeps the whites from reaching full volume).

A deep, round-bottomed bowl is best. It needs to be large enough for the egg whites to expand six or seven times their original volume. The bowls and beaters must be absolutely clean and free of fat and moisture.

Care also needs to be taken in separating the eggs because the whites won't whip to full volume if even a speck of yolk is present, because of the fat in egg yolk. The egg whites should be at room temperature (65 to 75 degrees) to ensure they will incorporate the most air possible.

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An electric mixer or balloon whisk may be used to beat the egg whites. In "How Cooking Works" (Macmillan: 1981), authors Sylvia Rosenthal and Fran Shinagel state: "There has been continuing controversy over the relative merits of beating egg whites with a balloon whisk in an unlined copper bowl, where the acidity of the metal helps the whites to rise and keep their stability after they have risen, versus beating them in a stainless-steel or glass bowl, where you need to add a pinch of cream of tartar to supply the acidity.

"Let's lay the controversy to rest. We have yet to meet anybody (ourselves included) who could spot the difference in a properly made souffle regardless of how the egg whites were beaten. A hand beater or an electric one works just as well as a whisk, and certainly an electric appliance produces less wear and tear on the cook."

On the other hand, Marion Cunningham has tested the two methods and reports that the copper bowl gives a clearly superior result. The volume of a souffle made with whites beaten in copper is no greater than one made with cream of tartar, but it has a better texture because the bubbles in the whites are smaller.

ELECTRIC MIXER METHOD

It takes only a few seconds of beating egg whites at low speed to reach the foamy stage (Step 1), where they lose the yellowish translucence and appear bubbly, but are still very fluid. This is the point where cream of tartar may be added to stabilize the whites, if desired or called for in recipes. Use 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar for each four egg whites. A dash of salt may also be added. Keep in mind, though, that adding either cream of tartar or salt too early will delay the foaming action.

Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until egg whites reach the soft peak stage (Step 2), at which peaks form when you lift the beaters, but then fold over. At this point the egg whites are moist and shiny. If preparing meringue, this is when you begin to add sugar; when making a souffle, this is the time to fold in the beaten egg yolks.

Continue beating until whites stand upright in peaks when the beaters are removed (Step 3). They should have a shiny, glossy surface and be stiff but not dry. Egg whites beaten to this stage are used for chiffon cakes and hard meringues.

If egg whites are overbeaten (Step 4), they become dry, appear curdled, don't combine well with other ingredients and can't perform their leavening function when heated. Remedy the problem by adding another egg white and beating again to the correct stage.

CLASSIC METHOD

Before each use, a copper bowl needs to be cleaned with salt slightly moistened with vinegar. Scrub the bowl thoroughly with this mixture, using a sponge or soft cloth. Rinse with hot water and dry thoroughly.

When the bowl cools to room temperature, add the egg whites and begin beating with a balloon whisk in a slow circular motion. Bring the whisk down on the far side of the bowl and up toward you. Some sources also recommend giving the bowl a quarter turn each time.

As whites begin to whip, increase speed and beat in a figure-8 motion--down the middle of the bowl, under and up one side, then down and away toward the opposite side. Continue beating until either soft or stiff peaks form.

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