Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Separating Eggs, How To Whip Egg Whites

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In continuation of my previous post
Eggy Snippets, comes this post on separating eggs and whipping egg whites. As we know, egg whites whipped right (and folded in right) can make a great deal of  difference to the texture of bakes like chiffon cakes, angel food cakes, French macarons and meringue cookies. In order to whip egg whites properly, separating eggs neatly would be the first step.

Separating eggs means separating the yolks from the whites. When we separate eggs for whipping them, we need to be sure the whites do not have even a trace of yolk in them. Yolk is grease and it will prevent the whites from whipping up to their full volume and stiffness. 

Do not attempt beating egg whites on a humid day !

Cold eggs separate more easily.  If separating eggs for the first time, separate when cold. You can bring the whites to room temperature and then whip as they whip better at room temperature. If you are in a hurry, place the bowl of whites in a larger bowl of warm (not hot) water, careful not to get water into the whites. It is OK if the whites are warm.

Weight : One large egg white weighs 30 grams. If you recipe calls for 4 whites, have at least 6 - 8 eggs on hand. 

Getting ready to separate eggs : If this is for whipping egg whites, you need to be doubly sure that everything you use to store, weigh or scrape them with are free of grease. This includes your work surface, the weighing bowl, the spatula,  bowls, spoons, the blades of your hand mixer, your dish cloth, the bowl you will whip them in and of course your hands! A non-plastic bowl is good, copper is supposed to be the best, you could use glass too. I use steel. Wash all of the above obsessively and dry them well with a clean dish cloth. Washing them with vinegar is supposed to work well to help remove any traces of grease.

Have one smaller bowl to drop the yolks in. 2 more squeaky clean ones to drop the whites in. Spread a clean newspaper on the table or counter. 

Cracking the eggs neatly is the first step. If you insist on cracking them on the counter or any available surface, you may need to have omelets for the next meal. Hold the egg in one hand, use a spoon to gently crack the egg in the middle. Break it apart gently but decisively. Hopefully there should be a whole neat yolk sitting in one half of the shell.

Now drop the whites in the other half into a clean bowl. Cup your right hand, pour the egg yolk into it, let any whites flow down into the clean bowl. Gently drop the egg yolk into the designated bowl. Repeat. If you would be separating a large number of eggs, it would be a good idea to drop the whites of each egg into a bowl first, be sure its clear and then pour it into the rest of the whites. Otherwise even if one of the egg whites is muddled with some yolk, you will end up repeating the whole exercise with more eggs! Practice this when you make omelets!

How do I get rid of that bit of yolk? Use a piece of egg shell to remove that tiny bit of yolk in the otherwise clear whites. Once you have separated the approximate number of whites, weigh them and proceed.  

Cream of tartar : This whitish powder helps whip eggs to a good volume and helps avoid over whipping. The ideal proportion according to Rose Levy Beranbaum is 1/8 teaspoon for each white. If you do not have cream of tartar, try using fresh lime juice in the same quantity.

Tool for beating : A hand mixer is works well, but am sure a stand mixer will be even better. I have never attempted with a wire whisk, but it won't be as quick or easy for sure!

Now to beat the egg whites : Please watch this video (after 4 minutes into the video) of Rose Beranbaum to get a better idea. Take the whites in a wide clean bowl. Start with your hand mixer on low speed. When it starts turning foamy, add the cream of tartar. If you add it beforehand, the whites will not foam. Once you add the cream of tartar or lemon juice, continue to beat gradually increasing the speed to medium high. When the beater marks show distinctly and soft peaks form, add the  sugar you have reserved (the quantity will be mentioned in the recipe). 

You could add the sugar beforehand, but whites whip faster to soft peaks without the sugar. Continue beating for a minute more till the whites form stiff peaks. To check, stop your mixer, slowly lift the beaters from the whites, you should be able to see peaks which stand straight. If they droop right away and fall back, you have to beat a little more. Be careful here, stop and check after a minute or so, as you do not want to beat the egg whites till they dry out. If they dry out, it will not easy to incorporate into the batter and your cake will not be light. Once the whites are whipped to the stage specified, use as directed in the recipe. 

Again, speeds on different blenders may vary, so go by what you see! 
Tools for folding in whites : Use a large silicon spatula or a slotted skimmer or a balloon whisk, whatever works best for you.

More bits : Some recipes direct you to add the sugar slowly, it is important to add it slowly taking the time specified. If you rush it, your meringue may not be as light.

In some recipes like meringue cookies, part of the sugar is meant to remain undissolved. So it is folded in towards the end. This apparently produces tender meringue as opposed to hard ones.
In most recipes, the whipped whites are dumped on top of the rest of the batter and folded in.  If you did the other way round, the whites will deflate a lot more. While making French macarons, the dry ingredients (sugar and nut mixture) are dumped on top of the meringue. Please follow the recipe instructions. 

 Please do read the previous post to get a clearer picture. Whipped egg whites open up so many more possibilities in baking and desserts.  Have fun with meringue, try these Orange Glow Chiffon Cake, Queen Of Sheba, Flourless Coffee Almond Cookies .

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