Beating Egg Whites
Knowing how to beat egg whites properly is a necessary cooking skill that many never master. Here's a short course on how to do it.
It is inevitable that a cook will eventually want to make a recipe that involves beating egg whites. The process is not difficult, but certain guidelines must be observed for the technique to be successful. These include: using clean, greaseless utensils, cold eggs, and careful separation of the white from the yolk.
First, the cook should make certain that the mixer beaters and bowl are clean and grease-free. Any small trace of grease will ruin the egg whites. It isn't a bad idea to beat the egg whites first, before the beaters have been used for something else. The whites will keep nicely in the refigerator for the 30 or so minutes it will take to make the rest of the recipe before they are needed. The mixer beaters and bowl (preferably metal) should be washed with a fresh paper towel, rather than a dishcloth, and scalded in hot water. They should then be dried with another paper towel and placed in the freezer to chill. This chilling helps the egg whites maintain their fluffiness when beaten. Also have on hand a clean, greaseless spoon and rubber scraper. Don't touch the inside of the bowl or beaters after washing.
Second, separate the whites from the yolks. This requires careful attention, and any yolk that finds its way into the white must immediately be scooped out with the clean spoon. If a lot of yolk gets into the whites, throw it all out and start over. An egg separator is good, or the cook can use the time-honored method of cracking the egg in the middle over a bowl, and allowing the white to drip into the bowl as the yolk is transferred from one half of the shell to the other. The eggs should also be cold, not room temperature.
Third, the cook should rememeber that beating egg whites takes time, and should never be rushed. Often, a recipe will call for sugar to be beaten gradually into egg whites. Sugar should be beaten in about a tablespoon at a time, every two minutes or so, or when scraping down the sides.
The time needed to beat the whites will vary, depending on the size of the eggs used, how many are used, and even mixer speed. Ten minutes is usually the minimum time needed, and it can take up to 20 minutes, or even half an hour, so be prepared.
For those with a stand mixer, set it to what the manufacturer recommends for beating egg whites, using the balloon whisk attachment, if available. Scrape the sides every two or three minutes with the spatula to ensure even aereation. A stand mixer will beat the whites more quickly, because the speed is usually higher than that of a hand mixer.
For a hand mixer, use a whisk attachment if available. If not, use metal beaters, and set the mixer to its highest speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl every couple of minutes here, also, and turn off the mixer when doing this, so it doesn't overheat.
The whites will begin to take on a foamy consistency and will reach "soft peak" stage fairly soon after they begin looking foamy. To test for soft peaks, turn off the mixer and whisk the attachment through and straight up out of the egg mixture. If a definite peak forms and the point begins to curl down, then soft peak has been reached. The peak should not immediately dissolve back into the bowl--it should stand up, but curl.
"Stiff peak" stage takes several more minutes. Use the same method with the mixer attachment, and look for peaks that do not curl over themselves, but stand straight up.
Once the whites have reached their proper consistency, refrigerate if necessary, to finish remainder of recipe. Many recipes call for the egg whites to be "folded" into another substance, such as a pudding or cream mixture.
The first thing to check is that the base mixture is not hot. Otherwise, it will cook the egg whites, which will render the recipe useless. To fold the egg whites, use about a quarter-cup at a time and gently mix them in to the base mixture. Place the egg whites on top of the base mixture, and using a rubber scraper, carefully bring the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl and over top of the egg whites. Continue until the whites have been mixed in and do the same with the next quarter cup, until all the egg whites have been incorporated.
In conclusion, it would be well to mention that beating egg whites is not an exact science, and takes some practice to master. It would probably be a good idea to have an experienced cook looking over your shoulder the first couple of times you try it. However, with greaseless utensils, careful attention and good separation of the white from the yolk, you can have success with this cooking skill.