Eggs are often added whole to recipes, but when recipes call for just whites, they are often beaten before being incorporated with the other ingredients, sometimes with sugar added, which is called a meringue. Meringue can be used as is (as for meringue cookies), other times it is folded into a recipe, such as with certain mousses, or used as the base of a recipe as with Italian meringue buttercream. We strongly recommend that you use a hand mixer or stand mixer when whipping egg whites. Whipping by hand with a balloon whisk can be done, but your arm will be achy and exhausted from the task. Here are our best tips for whipping egg whites:
- Start with room-temperature egg whites, as seen above; this will give you the maximum volume that you want.
- Use a scrupulously clean bowl as even a speck of grease will hinder the egg whites from whipping. Plastic bowls can retain a greasy film, so we suggest glass or stainless steel bowls. Also, do not underestimate the amount that the whites will expand – they can gain eight times their volume – so use a large enough bowl.
- Whisk the egg whites for about 30 seconds to 1 minute until frothy or foamy, as seen above. They will break up, liquefy a bit and small, clear bubbles will form. If cream of tartar, or another acid like lemon juice or salt, is recommended in the recipe to help stabilize the egg whites, add it at this time.
- Beat the mixture on medium-high speed. The egg whites will start to look whitish and lose their translucency, as seen above. If the recipe does not call for any added sugar, simply keep whipping until the desired texture is reached as described below.
- If sugar is to be added (meringue), you can begin to add it once the egg whites are thick enough to hold a soft shape. You can test this by stopping your mixer and lifting the beaters. They should bring the mixture up into a very soft peak. Turn the mixer back on and add the sugar very gradually, a couple tablespoons at a time. Take care to add the sugar slowly, as it needs time to dissolve in the egg whites. Some recipes call for superfine sugar, which dissolves more easily than regular granulated.
- Once all the sugar is added, the meringue will start to look opaque, white and visibly thickened. Stop the mixer again to check the texture. Here are the steps that the meringue will progress through:
- The meringue will be thick but fluid and fall from the beaters in a ribbon. When it lands on top of the meringue in the bowl, the ribbon stream immediately blends into the mixture.
- After beating some more, the ribbon will fall on top of the meringue and keep its distinct shape.
- At this point, look for ripples forming on the surface of the meringue while you are beating it. Stop your mixer and lift the beaters. A soft peak will form. meaning a pointed mound of meringue will appear, but its peak will softly flop over to the side. When a recipe says beat until “soft peaks” form, this is the stage you are looking for. If you were to carefully turn the bowl over, the meringue would slide within the bowl in one big mass.
- If you keep beating and check the peaks again, they will stand up straight. This is the “stiff peaks” stage required in some recipes, as seen in main image at top. Sometimes a recipe will say “beat until stiff and glossy,” and indeed there will be a sheen to the meringue. If you tipped the bowl over at this point, the meringue wouldn’t budge.
- At this point, STOP. You can overbeat egg whites and anything from here on in will be over-whipped. Over whipping egg whites will give you a dry and cottony result and the smooth texture will be gone.
Images: Peter Muka