Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Culinary IQ: Tuesday, October 11, 2011; Beating Egg Whites

Beating Egg Whites
This is a beating you can give without being called a bully!
The purpose of beating egg whites is to use them in baked goods and custards or sauces to lighten them. They are also used in different forms of icing for cakes and toppings for pies. Beaten egg whites are a leavening element in baked goods.
Here are a few tips to follow before you start beating the egg whites.
  1. It is best to separate the eggs cold but let the egg whites come to room temperature before beating.
  2. Always use a clean bowl that is free of oil or grease. Copper bowls are considered by many to be the best bowl to beat egg whites in. Copper bowls are usually expensive and not easy to find. Stainless steel is the most reasonable choice for beating egg whites. Avoid aluminum as it can turn the egg whites gray. Glass should be avoided because the egg whites slip on the surface and can take much longer to beat and full volume is harder to achieve. Plastic and rubber bowls should be avoided because grease and oil can stick in scratches in the bowl.
  3. Egg whites can be beaten by hand using a whisk or in an electric mixer using the whisk attachment. Once proper methods are learned it can be just as easy to beat them by hand as it is in an electric mixer. Beating them by hand also gives you more control in achieving the proper stage of beating.
  4. Acid and sugar act on egg whites to make the cell structure more stable. A common acid for use in egg whites is cream of tarter (a pinch) but a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar can be used. Taste is always a consideration when selecting the acid. Salt and acid can be added to the egg whites in the beginning. Sugar, however, should be added once the egg whites have been beaten to a foam similar to the foam on a cappuccino.
  5. Begin beating the egg whites on low and then increase to medium until foaming is achieved. Beating too fast will cause larger unstable cells.
  6. Once foam is achieved, sugar should be gradually rained into the egg whites as they are beaten. While sugar helps stabilize the air cells it also adds weight to the egg whites and increases the time required to achieve the desired texture of egg white. If sugar is used in the egg whites it is near to impossible to over whip the egg whites.
  7. There are typically 3 stages of beaten egg whites, soft peak, medium peak and stiff peak. Egg whites can be tested by stirring the whisk or whisk attachment in the egg whites and lifting it vertically out and inverting it. Soft peak should have structure but will only hold a soft peak that tends to fall away. Medium peak is accomplished when the point of egg white falls to approximately a 45 degree angle. Stiff peak is reached when the point remains erect with only a minimal angle at the very top of the point. The egg whites also become more shiny as they progress through the stages.
  8. When incorporating egg whites into other mixtures you should always fold and not mix them in. Egg whites should always be incorporated into the heavier mixture and not the opposite. A sacrifice of a small amount of the whites can be mixed into the heavier mixture to lighten it and help it except the egg whites more easily. Add egg whites in a few smaller amounts. Using a spatula scrape around the edges of the bowl turning the heavier mixture over the egg whites. Mix only until the egg whites are fully incorporated and no streaks are evident.
Once you have mastered the ability to beat and use egg whites properly you will be able to make some of the most delicate and sought after dishes and desserts known to man!

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