The clever people at America’s Test Kitchen have conducted an experiment to determine the best way to beat egg whites. They looked at how much difference it makes whether you follow conventional baking wisdom and start off beating your egg whites slowly and gradually building the speed of the electric mixer. Or if you start out at the highest mixer speed and just go for it.
It may sound odd, but that’s always been something I’ve wondered about (but I am a baking nerd and usually too impatient to mess around with slowly beating egg whites at first).
To run this bold experiment they created two lots of beaten egg whites – one the “text book” way (start out slow and finish on high) and the other controversially beating on high from the get go.
With these two lots of beaten egg whites, they made chiffon cakes, chocolate mousse, meringue frosting and meringue cookies.
Any guesses as to how it turned out?
How to beat egg whites properly – the results
Well there was a difference – but it wasn’t what I expected.
Essentially with the chiffon cake and the mousse, you couldn’t tell the difference. The slow/fast beaten egg whites which take longer to make, produced exactly the same results as the throw it in a bowl and beat it fast and furious.
But, the cookies and the mousse was a different story. If you follow conventional egg white whipping techniques of slow beating ramped up to high speed, you will get cookies and frosting that is lighter and airier (plus bigger cookies – always a good thing in my book).
The slow then fast beating of egg whites seems to produce more fluffy and voluminous amounts of egg whites. This matters when the egg white is the main focus of your recipe – as for the meringue cookies and frosting, but not when it is just another part of the recipe – as for the chiffon cake and mousse.
Why? Well that’s the science bit. Here’s how I understand it. You know when you exercise in an effort to burn off some of those baking calories, and you do a proper warm up which allows you to exercise a bit longer and a bit more effectively (hopefully without injury). Well that’s what it’s like for the egg whites. The proteins need to be loosened up so that when you hit high speed on the mixer they can do their thing to their full potential.
I love it when you can use exercise metaphors in baking. Doesn’t happen too often.
So that’s the low down of beating egg whites. If you’re making a cake, mousse or anything else where beaten egg whites are only a minor player in the recipe, you can go in hard and fast and beat your egg whites on high speed and save some time. But where your recipe relies on a voluminous cloud of fluffy, stable egg whites, best to start out slow and gradually increase your mixers speed.
The full report on the egg white beating experiment can be found here.