Stiff Peaks – November 2020
How and why we should beat the crap out of eggs.
Stiff peaks are one of those things that you might come across on a recipe and honestly think, “What the hell is that? How does a liquid egg get…stiff?” Really, all this is asking you to do is whip some egg whites into a nice airy mixture. Whether you do it with a whisk, hand mixer, or a stand mixer, this is actually something easy. It just requires a bit of time, and if you’re doing it by hand, a little stamina.
The action of whipping the egg whites like this is forcing air into the mixture and stretching the proteins in the eggs. As the air is incorporated, the proteins in the egg white form a skin around the air into little bubbles. If there is any fat present in the bowl, like from the yolk, it will hurt the formation of those bubbles and allow the air to slip away, leaving you with little to work with. This is great for scrambled eggs and omelets, but not so much if you’re trying to bake or make a souffle.
Getting the right amount of air into the egg whites can be a bit of an art, but there are some easy things to do to help in this effort:
First, always crack your egg on a flat surface. Hitting the shell on an edge will increase the likelihood of the egg shattering and you get little pieces of shell in your egg. Hitting a flat surface will give you a cleaner break. Second, you need to separate the egg yolk from the egg whites. With your cleanly cracked egg shell, you can simply shuffle the egg yolk between the two halves while the egg white slides out into your mixing bowl. Another easy trick is to take a water bottle with a narrow mouth and squeeze it gently, hold the mouth over the yolk, and then release the bottle. The suction action of the bottle can pull the yolk out of the mixture. Next, break up the egg whites with your whisk in figure 8 motions. Once the whites are starting to incorporate, you can move to full circle motions. Now, here’s the key for you hand mixing people – you need to beat the crap out of the eggs at roughly 180 beats per minute, for 4 minutes.
At the end of the 4 minutes, you’re going to have a delicate, white fluff of egg. When we’re talking delicate, we mean those old jokes about not running through the house while a souffle is cooking. The rising action of the souffle is caused entirely by the expansion of these little protein pockets, and tremors or other excessive vibrations could cause them to collapse.
If you’re having trouble with this, try whipping the eggs in a metal or glass bowl, not a plastic one. Fat will sabotage your efforts and strip the bubbles, and no matter how hard you try to clean it, there may still be some residue on your plastic that will interfere with the whipping. Also, room temperature eggs will whip more easily than cold ones. If you ever over beat the eggs to the point that they’re lumpy, or fall apart, you can try adding another egg white and then whisking it back to those glossy, delicate peaks.