Do you sometimes look at a recipe and notice the need for separating and then beating the eggs whites until “soft” or “firm” peaks appear…and promptly write off that recipe as being too complicated, time-consuming, or just plain not worth it? I’ve done it, too, but there are the occasional recipes that merit this somewhat fussy extra step. (In my world, those recipes include Aunt Glenna’s Flourless Fudge Pie and Chocolate Chip Merengue Cookies.😛)
The technique of beating or whipping eggs whites and folding them into a batter serves to lighten the batter of the cake that is about to be baked. It’s also used to make meringue, and the process is really quite easy. For the times when you might be tempted to try, a few basic tips and helpful visuals will ensure delicious success.
Helpful Hints For Beating Egg Whites
- Eggs will separate more easily when cold, but egg whites that have sat at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes will achieve the fullest volume.
- Fresh eggs will reach the fullest volume when beaten because they are slightly acidic and this helps to stabilize the proteins. As an egg ages, it slowly becomes more alkaline, which makes the proteins less stable.
- Make sure there is no trace of yolk in the whites and that bowls and beaters are very clean and completely dry.
- To avoid getting any bits of yolk in the whites, separate the whites into a small bowl or ramekin and then transfer one at a time to the bowl in which they will be beaten.
- Beat the eggs at slow speed until they are foamy and gradually increase the speed to medium-high for a high-powered stand mixer or high for a handheld mixer.
- The sugar in a recipe should be added when the soft peak stage has been reached. Add gradually.
- The eggs will become foamy first, and then reach the soft peak stage. At this stage, when the beater is lifted, there will literally be a soft peak that slumps over. Once firm peaks are achieved, the peaks will stand tall and not bend over. The presence of sugar will create a glossy appearance.
- Once the firm peak stage is reached, stop beating. Once overbeaten the whites will become dry and clump together. They will break down in the batter and not lighten the cake as intended. After reaching soft peaks, I like to stop the mixer frequently to check the whites.
- Don’t let the beaten egg whites sit. Use them right away.
What’s the proper way to “fold?”
- When folding the whites into the batter, start with about a third of the egg whites. This will lighten the batter and prepare it for the remaining whites. Using a rubber spatula, plunge the “sharp” side of the spatula into the middle of the bowl, and pull toward you with the flat side, bringing a portion of batter up as you go. Rotate the bowl as you repeat the movement, always starting at the center and pulling the batter up along the side of the bowl, until the batter is more or less homogenous. If you see a few wispy streaks of egg white, that’s okay. This process will create as little deflation of the whites as possible.
The process of folding beaten eggs whites into the batter of Aunt Glenna’s Flourless Fudge Pie creates a dessert that’s rich and creamy without being too dense.