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See How to Whip Egg Whites Perfectly

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The Project: Whipping Egg Whites

The fluffy, almost pillow-like quality of whipped egg whites is a terribly useful thing. Whipped egg whites make souffles and cakes rise, lighten pancakes and waffles, and can be sweetened and turned into meringue, among their many uses.

Many home cooks are daunted by the prospect of whipping egg whites, but really, nothing could be easier. This guide shows you how to whip them, and shows you the stages (soft peak, firm peak, stiff peak) so you'll feel confident when you take it on yourself.

When you whip egg whites, you're essentially forcing air into the egg whites, causing the protein in the egg whites to stretch and create bubbles around the water within the whites. As you whip them they reach different stages:
  1. Soft peaks (you can remove the whisk or beaters and a peak will form, and then droop)
  2. Firm peaks (when you remove the whisk or beaters the peak that forms will keep its shape)
  3. Stiff peaks (not only does the peak on the egg white surface hold, but so will the peak on the whisk or beaters when turned to peak upwards as shown above).

Watch these stages carefully, because if you over-beat the egg whites the stretched protein will break and let the water in the whites out, creating a really unappetizing mix of eggy water and foam.

Start With Fresh Eggs and Separate Them

Fresh egg whites will whip up quicker and be more stable than whites from older eggs. Eggs are easiest to separate when they are cold, but easiest to whip up effectively when they are at room temperature. So separate the eggs when they are cold and let the whites sit out for about half and hour to take the chill off them.

Be very careful when you separate the eggs. Any yolk (or other fat, oil, or grease) that makes its way into the whites will keep the whites from whipping up as big and fluffy as possible.

When I'm separating more than a few eggs, I like to use the three-bowl method: one bowl to crack the egg into, one to put the whites in, and one to put the yolks in. That way the accumulated whites aren't contaminated by yolk if you accidentally break one.

You'll notice I've used a fancy unlined copper bowl, a device especially made for whipping egg whites. While I am very happy to have such a beautiful tool, and if you have one, you should certainly use it since the ions from the copper help stabilize the egg whites (science is cool!), it is far from necessary to whip egg whites successfully and the stabilizing force of the copper can be wonderfully mimicked by added a wee amount of cream of tartar to the whites, as explained in the next step. Any clean, large bowl will work just fine.

What to do with the yolks? Make a pudding (this Chocolate Pudding is divine) or make mayonnaise-type sauces (Aioli and Rouille are two great options).

Add Salt and/or Cream of Tartar

Use a large clean whisk (if you have a balloon whisk, all the better) or clean beaters or the whisk attachment on a standing mixer to whip the eggs just until a bit foamy. Then sprinkle in a pinch of salt and/or cream of tartar for every 2 - 4 egg whites, once you're working with more egg whites than that, add 1/8 tsp. up to 8 whites and 1/4 tsp. up to a dozen. Both salt and cream of tartar act as stabilizers and will help the egg whites hold their shape when whipped.

Remember: if you do happen to be using a copper bowl, skip the cream of tartar. Also, if you don't happen to have cream of tartar lying around, don't worry or rush out to the store; I've whipped plenty of egg whites without its help!

Whip the Egg Whites: Soft Peaks

Now it's time to whip, or beat, the egg whites. If doing it by hand, you want to do this vigorously, in a big up-and-down circular motion to work as much air into the mix as possible. If using electric beaters or a standing mixer, I find medium speed beats the eggs while also letting me monitor their progress sufficiently.

Here, soft peaks have formed. When the whisk or beaters are pulled out of the whites, a peak forms where the tool was, but the peak pretty much immediately droops.

Soft peak is the stage you usually want when you're simply adding whipped egg whites to a dish to lighten it (a trick I like to use with pancakes and waffles for extra fluffy, light-as-air results).

If you keep beating the egg whites, they will quite quickly go from soft peaks to firm peaks. The difference is that firm peaks keep their shape without drooping.

Keep going and you'll quickly get stiff peaks. These egg whites will keep their shape, even when turned upside down and round and round, as you can see on the whisk above.

This is the last stage you're going to want to go to. If you keep whipping the whites they will first turn dry, losing their glossy sheen, and then start to pull apart a bit the way foam on the ocean does, and then the protein strands you have so carefully stretched and filled with air will simply collapse and break apart, the water and protein in the egg whites will separate, and you will be left with a sad bowl of eggy water and clumps of foam.

Note: Whipped egg whites are fairly fragile, so now that you've whipped them, use them! If your recipe calls for "folding" them into a batter or with another mixture, remember that you've just beaten a bunch of air into them and you want to keep as much of that air in there as possible. Fold gently, running the spatula along the bottom of the bowl and then up and over the batter and whites rather than simply stirring everything together as usual. It will take a bit of patience to get everything incorporated, but you'll be rewarded by the light fluffiness of your final dish!

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