Baking 101: How to Beat Egg Whites
Beating egg whites is one of those tasks that seems to strike fear in the hearts of even the most confident and skilled bakers. I was one of the “wary” too, years ago. But my love of all things meringue, macaroon and angel food made me push through, honing my technique till I nailed it.
And I’m happy to share all of my secrets with you today – with an easy recipe to get you started!
The single most important thing to remember when working with egg whites is time. Time to get the whites to room temperature. And time to beat them very slowly, to build a strong and sturdy base that will not deflate when you increase the speed and/or add other ingredients.
So without further ado, here are my “top tips” for beating perfect egg whites – every time!
1. No grease allowed. For egg whites to beat up with maximum volume, it’s important to make sure that all tools – bowls, whisks, attachments – are completely grease-free. Even a speck of grease will affect the outcome. To avoid any yolk getting into the whites, I separate the eggs over a small bowl, pouring the yolk gently from one shell to the other. Let the whites drip down into the bowl, and go back and forth till just the yolk remains.
2. Separate cold, beat warm. Eggs are easiest to separate when they are cold – but to get the most volume, you want to beat them when they are completely at room temperature. Plan on doing this at least an hour before you begin baking.
3. Patience. The most important factor in beating egg whites is patience – you want to develop a strong and sturdy base so that the whites don’t deflate when you add your sugar or other ingredients. Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, start out on a low speed and patiently wait for the surface of the whites to be covered in uniform, tiny bubbles.
Don’t be tempted to increase the speed to move things along – you’ll just get bigger bubbles that are less stable. Keep watching and eventually you’ll notice that the “hole” in the center has disappeared and the entire surface is uniform.
If you’re adding other ingredients – typically sugar and/or cream of tartar, salt, an extract or lemon juice – do so at this point and do it gradually. You want to maintain that nice strong base you’ve created. Once the other ingredients are incorporated you can then increase the speed again – to medium-high/high.
5. Look for “tracks”. When you start to see “tracks” form you can safely bump up the speed to high and continue according to your recipe. The chance for overbeating is now greatly reduced, as your whites are strong and sturdy. This will be evident in how nice and high your cakes rise too.
6. Soft Peak vs. Stiff Peak. How do you know when the whites have reached the “soft” peak and “stiff” peak stages?
The photo on the left shows the soft peak stage – no visible tracks remain once the beater is lifted, and while there is a tip, it will tend to “droop.” When the egg whites have reached the stiff peak stage, the beater will make deep tracks while the mixer is running, and the tracks will remain when the whisk attachment is lifted. The whites will also hold a tip, as the photo on the right shows.
7. Rule of thirds. After the whites are beaten you may have to add another ingredient (like flour or cocoa powder). Do not be tempted to add it all at once. Using a wire whisk or rubber spatula, gently but swiftly fold in, one third at a time, till fully incorporated.
These meringue stars are a great way to practice your newfound skills! They are great for anyone on a gluten-free diet, and as egg whites are naturally fat free you can create some “almost” guilt-free desserts!
- 1/2 c. + 1 T. sugar
- 1 c. powdered sugar
- 4 egg whites, room temperature
- 1/2 t. cream of tartar
- Pre-heat oven to 200 – place racks on upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, grind the granulated sugar for several minutes, till very fine – set aside.
- In a mixing bowl beat egg whites on low speed till frothy and completely covered in tiny bubbles. Add cream of tartar and increase speed to medium, gradually adding 2 T. of the processed sugar.
- When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, add another tablespoon of the sugar and increase speed to high. When stiff peaks form add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff and glossy.
- Fold in the powdered sugar.
- Scoop meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip (I used an Ateco #2). Pipe stars onto your prepared baking sheets, spacing them fairly close together.
- Let the stars sit for 30 minutes, till set – they should stay intact when lightly touched. Bake for 2 hours, or till dry and crisp but not at all colored. Transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.