Magazine article Sunset

Why Do Egg Whites Act So Weird?

Magazine article Sunset

Why Do Egg Whites Act So Weird?

Article excerpt

Light, puffy whipped egg whites are an important ingredient in many dishes--and essential for souffles, tender meringue--topped pies, and crisp meringue shells. How egg whites are whipped affects the volume and texture of these foods; the secret is all in the air bubbles.

When egg whites are beaten briskly with a whisk, a rotary beater, or even a fork, the whites stretch and trap air as bubbles. The smaller and more even-size the bubbles, the more stable (long-lasting) the foam. Large bubbles are inclined to break faster. The tools you use and what you add to whites give you considerable control over the size and strength of the bubbles.

A large whisk with many fine wires (or a balloon beater in a mixer) moved at high speed does the best job of introducing air into whites for even-size bubbles. Acid and sugar also affect bubble size and strength (see "What makes egg white foam stronger?" following). Whites foam best when whipped at a cool room temperature (high 60s to low 70s). Whites from the refrigerator warm quickly from incorporated air.

Why does the foam sometimes not achieve maximum volume?

Optimally, whites increase at least nine times in volume when whipped and hold short, distinct peaks. Underbeaten whites haven't firmed enough to hold bubbles. Overbeaten whites are stretched so much that they pop easily; you will see cottony bits of solidified (coagulated) white.

What makes egg white foam stronger?

Plain whipped whites make a fragile, short-lived foam; on standing, their own weight causes bubbles to burst, and the whites become liquid (and won't whip up again).

If cream of tartar (or similar acid) is added to whites as they are whipped, the egg white proteins become stronger: acid coagulates, or stiffens, them slightly. You can add cream of tartar to any recipe that uses plain whipped whites, such as a souffle, but it's still important to incorporate whites and cook the mixture right away. You need 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar for each 2 tablespoons (1 large) egg white.

Sugar also strengthens egg white protein, keeps bubbles small, and keeps the foam pliable. …

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