HOW TO SEPARATE AND WHIP EGG WHITES
This instructional post grew out of the chocolate soufflé post that I just put up. Whipping whites is a vital baking technique that must be learned. Hopefully this entry will be somewhat enlightening and remotely helpful.
Whipping egg whites is an easy-to-learn technique; however, the process requires a certain level of awareness during prep. This how-to explains how to separate the whites from the yolk and how to achieve the whites’ maximum height. And best of all, you don’t need one of those copper pots to get the job done!
The white, also known as the albumen is virtually all protein and no fat. It’s important that you keep the whites totally fat free. Any grease will impede their ability to inflate. So wash your beaters well, and clean the bowl. I do so by moistening a paper towel in white vinegar and wiping down the sides of the bowl. The bowl should be dry, as any water will inhibit the growth of the whites. It is important that you use a relatively small bowl for the whipping, since you want all of the whites in motion at all times. A really wide bowl isn’t the best option here.
Separating the eggs can be done several different ways, all of them equally effective. The first way is to crack the egg in one hand and break it open over your other hand. The fingers in the hand not holding the egg shell should be about quarter inch apart. This process allows the whites to slip through your fingers; it leaves the yolk right in your slightly cupped hand. This is a very good method if you’re good at opening eggs with one hand; however, a bad break could lead to a busted yolk. And the slightest bit of yolk will sabotage your efforts.
Don’t fret if you can’t break an egg open with one hand. There’s another perfectly acceptable way to segregate the whites from the yellow. Crack an egg shell in the middle and hold the broken egg over a bowl. Pouring the contents of the egg from one half-shell to the other causes the white to slip out into the bowl beneath. Just keep alternating the yolk until the eggs whites are totally separate.
The third way and final way to divorce the yolk from the albumen is to use an egg separator. This little gadget can probably be purchased at any kitchen store. It’s certainly fast, clean, and effective—but it’s not perfect. I’ve used it several times and I had a yolk break on me once and ruin the whites I had already separated.
The egg whites should ideally be at room temperature for optimal loft. The whites, as previously stated, are a protein, and they expand more easily when warm. Take them out of the refridge a half-hour before use if you can.
To whip, begin by using the lowest setting so as to combine the eggs. Once your whites have come together (should only be five seconds), crank up that mixer to the highest setting and let ‘er rip. If necessary, move your mixer in a circle in the bowl to keep all those whites in motion.
Adding an acid to the whites stabilizes them, allowing them to maintain the air whipped inside of them. Most recipes have you throw in cream of tartar, which has never failed me. If you don’t have this, try a small amount of white vinegar. The acid should be added once you bump the mixer peed up from low to high. A pinch of salt is generally recommended to whites as well.
Soft Peaks are achieved first, and then stiff peaks. The easiest way to check the doneness of your whites is by stopping your mixer and lifting it vertically out of your bowl. If the peak in the bowl flops over when it detaches from the whites of the mixer, then you’ve got soft peaks. For the stiffer variety, continue mixing until the peak stands on end when the mixer is pulled up. Stiff peaks are a little tougher to get in comparison to their flaccid counterparts. If you overbeat egg whites, they can become watery and go from stiff to soft. If this happens, you can add an egg white to the bowl and whip up the entire mixture again. Much like poaching an egg, this is something that takes a little practice but is totally doable. Just make sure to keep the whites grease free–that’s 90% of the battle!