What do “soft peaks” look like? What about “stiff peaks”? How do you know when you’re over-whipping? These are some of the great mysteries of egg foam making. But I say: let them be mysteries no longer! Let’s have a picture tutorial that will clear the air on this once and for all! Because being anxious over the height of your egg foam is one sure way to suck all the fun out of a baking project. Read this and go forward with confidence, friends. Making a perfect whip is easy if you know what to look for.
Here I have four perfectly good egg whites that I’m about to ruin. Don’t tell Mrs. Pastry, OK? She abhors waste in any form however small and I don’t want to get in trouble. This is just between us. You can see I’ve placed the whites in my (im)perfectly clean copper egg bowl. But then these things are a pain to keep free of tarnish. Here I’ll say that a copper egg bowl really is the best vessel for whipping whites for reasons I have explained here. As for an instrument you can’t do better than a hand mixer which lets you move all around the bowl and attack any un-whipped bit of egg white. If you don’t have these tools it’s not a problem, the same rules still apply.
These egg whites are quite fresh and firm, but that’s not important for a successful whip. In fact older eggs generally whip up faster and better. Old whites are more liquid than gelatinous, you see, and that’s a good thing when you consider that whipping is a factor of applying shear force to the proteins in the white. It’s easier to do that when the whites are thin rather than thick. Consider: which liquid will a whisk cut through with more speed — water or honey? I trust you see my point. Off we go.
Now then, I begin to whip on 50% power so the liquid whites don’t fly all over my brand new shirt. After about 20 seconds I’m starting to make progress.
I up the power to 75% and keep whipping for about another 30 seconds. Here you can see the whites are starting to get really foamy and take on some body. If you don’t have a copper bowl like the one pictured here and you want to add some cream of tartar or lemon juice to help protect you from over-whipping, this is the point tot add it. This is also where you want to start adding sugar if you’re making meringue.
I crank up the power to 100% and whip for about another 30 seconds. Here you can see I’m approaching the zone. These aren’t quite soft peaks as they flop over too easily. Also look on the beater there: nothing but blobs on the ends. Keep going.
Another 20-30 seconds and I’m at the soft peak stage. The mass of whites is silky and almost elastic. See those lovely curls and the way the tips of the whites droop gently down off the beaters? Just about perfect soft peaks.
If you’re the sort of person that likes the bowl tip test, you can do that. The whole mass should stick and not slip around.
Another 20-30 seconds on high and I’m at the stiff peak stage. The whites have lost any of the elasticity they had and are as firm and voluminous as they’re going to be. Peaks are straight up when I lift the beaters and stick straight out off the implements themselves.
OK. Now I’m going to push it and go on. After another full minute on high I’m at what some people like to call “dry peaks”. The whites still form peaks when you lift the beater up. But the silkiness is starting to disappear and be replaced by a grainy appearance caused by clumping proteins. They’re still usable, but the foam isn’t as strong as it once was, and I’m actually starting to lose volume.
Another minute on high and I’m well over-whipped. The whites don’t even form peaks anymore, and look like mounds of cottage cheese. I’ve lost a good third of my volume and liquid is starting to accumulate at the bottom of the bowl, water that’s been squeezed out by clenching proteins. These whites aren’t useful for anything,
However it’s reassuring that it took so long to ruin some whites, isn’t it? I had a rather narrow window between soft and stiff peaks, but quite a large one between stiff and dry peaks. That’s the margin of error that a copper egg bowl buys you. So I hope this has been helpful. And again, don’t tell my wife, K? I’ll be in for it unless I can prove I ate these with a spoon after the demonstration was over. Blechhh.