How To: Beat Egg Whites

I just posted a recipe, Country-Style Almond Cake, from a new cookbook called Food of the Italian South, which called for stiff egg whites. I was amazed in this recipe that is gluten-free, how much the egg whites gave moisture to the cake. So this leads me to think about this technique, and how people may not know much about and how it can improve recipes.

To whip the whites is to beat them until they form soft, pillowy mounds or firm, satiny peaks. You can achieve this with a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer. The most important thing when beating egg whites is to pick the right bowl. The bottom of the bowl should be narrower than the top so that all the whites are in motion at the same time. Cooper bowls are the first choice, but if you don’t have, a stainless steel bowl is perfect. Never use a porcelain, glass or plastic bowl.

The point of beating whites is to get as much air as possible into them and still leave them moist enough to expand even further with heat. Let the egg whites come to room temperature before beating. With a little research, here are directions to beat egg whites into soft, firm and stiff peaks.

First, when beating for soft peaks. When you turn your beater upside down, the peaks are just starting to hold. They’re soft and melt back into themselves after a second.

Second, when beating for firm peaks. When you turn your beater upside down, the peaks will hold, and the ridges are more distinct, but the tips fold back on themselves.

Finally, when beating for stiff peaks. When turning the beater upside down, and those peaks hold proudly! They should point straight up without collapsing at all (or maybe a little bit just at the very tips). The mixture is thick and heavy.

“Thanks for the free book, Clarkson Potter!”