You have your recipe. You are ready to separate, whip, fold, create. Here are a few tips to ensure your egg white whipping gets off on the right foot.
How do I separate thee? Let me count the ways:
Separating eggs feels like a task you should be able to rush through. It should be a no-brainer. However, the fact that there are countless methods, devices and even infomercials about separating eggs reveals its tricky nature. To be fair, the egg white is the persnickety one while the yolk could care less. After all, that dreaded speck of yolk; that blamable, fat-filled, yellow dot is the supposed reason your egg whites won't whip. And people are clever, sometimes overly so. For example, there is the shell-to-shell method, water bottle method, needle method, funnel method and the turkey baster method along with a myriad of egg separators and other devices like slotted spoons. Me? I prefer three bowls and my hands.
1. Always use cold eggs. Both the yolks and whites are firmer and separate more easily.
2. Crack the egg on the counter, not the side of the bowl. This way you avoid creating little bits of shell that potentially get jammed into the interior and poke the yolk.
3. Use your clean hands, not the shell halves, as the tool that allows the white to fall away from the yolk. Confession One: I think the shell-to-shell method is the reason so many other methods were invented. Of course you puncture the yolk! The fragile little thing get continuously passed over the sharp, jagged edges of the shell. Duh! Confession Two: People being squeamish about touching their food is the other reason so many gadgets were invented. Please get over it. Your hands are the perfect tool. They are soft, flexible, ever-present, never in the dishwasher, free, easy to clean....
4. Use three bowls: one to catch the white as the egg is being separated, one to store the separated whites, and one to store the separated yolks. This way, if you do break the yolk, you only ruin one white and not the whole batch.
Perfectly separated whites do not ensure meringue success. You now have to consider several other factors.
Know Thy Enemies:
There are several enemies, other than yolk, of building a good egg foam. They include fat in any form and residual detergents.
1. Use clean, lotion-free hands when working with egg whites.
2. Do not use plastic bowls since they are more difficult to get squeaky clean. No matter how carefully you wash, odds are that a bit of grease or soap residue remains behind.
3. Wipe all of your utensils and bowls down with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice before using. It only takes a moment and helps remove any trace amounts of fat, grease, etc.
The Ultimate Frenemies:
An egg foam is created when the force of whisking causes proteins in the whites to unfold and then recombine in a new web around the air bubbles. Believe it or not, there are a few things that can both help and hurt egg foams such as temperature, age of the egg, when you add the sugar, etc.
1. The age of the whites matters, but there is not a clear cut choice. Older whites, which tend to be thinner, looser and more alkaline, create a more voluminous foam that is less stable. Fresher whites create a more dense, stable foam. And, now that you know all that, you are going to use the whites in your fridge regardless because those are the ones you have!
2. I prefer to use room temp egg whites for meringue making. The protein strands are "looser" making the whites easier to whip. This is especially important if you are whipping the whites by hand as opposed to with a mixer.
3. Now, even if I am using a stand mixer, I always start whipping my whites by hand first. I then use the machine on medium-low speed to create a nice, uniform network of bubbles. Only then do I turn up the speed to finish whipping. I find this approach creates a beautiful, stable egg foam.
4. Sugar is the ingredient that turns whipped egg whites into meringue and improves stability. However, you cannot just add it willy-nilly. If you add the sugar too early, it inhibits the ability to gain volume. If you add it all at once, or even a little too quickly, the weight of the sugar can collapse that egg foam you just built, again reducing volume. However, there is the chance you wait too long to add the sugar. If this happens, you pass right through the optimum foam texture and get a grainy, dry, broken looking meringue. Just remember to begin slowly adding sugar when you get to medium-firm peaks. Don't hesitate to repeatedly turn off the machine to check your progress.
Next step? Learn about the three different types of meringue!