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Eggs - those amazing little things which are such a vital part of baking. Whole eggs, egg whites and egg yolks are used in different ways for varied results. Apart from lending flavor and richness, whole eggs work as leaveners and help bind the batter. Eggs whipped to a volume are the sole leaveners in foam cakes like genoise and fat less sponge. Egg yolks lend richness, emulsify and thicken batters and custards.
In some recipes, egg whites can be used to replace whole eggs if you want to lower the cholesterol in the bake. They are simply whisked with other ingredients to make tuiles and macaroons while they are whipped to peaks to make meringue cookies, pavlova, chiffon cakes, mousse cakes, ladyfingers, French macarons and more. Magical right?
Here are some bits about eggs you may find useful.
- One large egg weighs 48 grams (without shell), one egg white 30 grams and the yolk 18 grams. Since the weight of eggs may vary even within a given grade, weighing them is the way to go. We do not have any kind of grading here in India, so all the more necessary. If a recipe does not mention the size or weight of eggs, you can take the above mentioned weights.
- Unless otherwise specified, eggs should be at room temperature when you use them for baking. Take them out of the refrigerator about an hour ahead if needed.
- If a recipe ingredients list has 'Eggs, separated' it means you will be using the whites and yolks separately. Separating eggs in order to get clear egg whites and neat yolks comes with practice.
- In recipes where you need to whip egg whites to a volume, it pays to be paranoid about separating eggs without a trace of grease. In other cases you can get away with pretty decent results as it does not matter.
- Whites do not whip stiff enough and to the best volume if there is yolk or any other kind of grease. This will affect the texture of the cake or cookies which is not what we want of course.
- Whipped egg white is the sole leavener in some bakes like Queen of Sheba Queen Of Sheba and Almost Fudge Gateau
- You can separate eggs quite easily at room temperature, but it is easier to separate them when they are cold. If the egg whites are cold, you can warm them by putting the bowl of whites in warm (not hot) water. Warm whites are OK for whipping.
- While separating eggs for whipping whites, it is better to have a few more eggs than you think are needed.
- You don't need fancy tools to separate eggs, messy hands are good enough. OK, egg shells (no messy hands) if you are dexterous enough to juggle the yolks between two shells.
- Whites first! Given a choice I would prefer to whip whites at right at the stage needed. If you will be using the hand mixer for making the batter as well whipping whites, it is better to whip the whites first and then mix the batter. Unless you have an extra set of blades, it would be very annoying to stop in between to clean and obsessively wash the blades halfway through the recipe. You will need to have everything else ready before you do this as the whites lose volume quickly.
- Older or aged egg whites supposedly work better in recipes like French macarons. The eggs in this case can be separated a day or more ahead and refrigerated covered. This is specially useful where sugar is not used in the beating step to stabilize the whites.
- Cream of tartar : This whitish powder helps stabilize whites and also avoid over whipping. The ideal proportion according to Rose Beranbaum is 1/8 teaspoon for each white, use more and the whites won't whip! If you do not have cream of tartar, try using fresh lime juice in the same quantity.
- Storing: Egg whites can be refrigerated for a few days. Supposedly freeze well for at least one year! Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. I may not want to risk meringue or chiffon cake with them, but should be good enough for macaroons?
- Egg yolks may also be frozen, but with 1/2 teaspoon sugar per yolk stirred into them to prevent them from becoming sticky. But you must remember to subtract this sugar from the recipe later.
- 2 egg whites replace 1 whole egg in recipes which allow the substitution.
- Using yolks : You can use them for home-made custard, fruit curd and baked custards in a hundred flavors. I am so tempted every single time I separate eggs!
- Egg whisked with a bit of water and then brushed on breads and other bakes gives them a gorgeous golden color. This is called egg wash.
Egg Substitutes: Unashamedly I admit, am quite biased about using eggs in baking as I love the taste the texture it brings! You can bake without them too using appropriate substitutes. But you may not be able to substitute in all recipes or replicate the texture. So be careful, better to try egg less recipes rather than trying to substitute in one with eggs.
Common egg replacers : Depending on what role the egg has to play in the recipe - make it rise or bind or just provide richness and moisture, you can try substituting. So you can't obviously bake a genoise or an angel food cake or chiffon cake without eggs.
Commercial egg replacers : Ener-G and Orgran are two brands I have read about. These supposedly work great.
Cornstarch : 2 tablespoons cornflour mixed in 2 tablespoons warm water to replace one egg is something I have used a couple of times in cookies and pancakes.
Flax seed : 1 tablespoon flax seed powder mixed in 3 tablespoons warm water, let sit till it is viscous. This replaces one egg. It has a nutty taste so use in a recipe with nuts.
Yogurt : 1/4 cup thick yogurt in place of 1 egg. Works in breads.
Fruit puree, pureed tofu and vinegar are other substitutes commonly used, but within parameters again.
Be sure to check these links when you want to try eggless recipes or substitutes.
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