Egg whites are to baking as jokes are to conversations. When they’re handled right, they make everything lighter and happier. When they fail, they fall as flat as a manhole cover, and feel about as heavy.
There’s a world of hand-me-down tips: use a bone-dry bowl and whisk, and make sure there is no grease. When you’re folding, lead with the sharp edge. Bringing the flat side down on your egg whites will burst the bubbles. You’ll be making your job harder, even as you’re trying to get it done. Use a copper bowl, if you have one, but any clean deep bowl will do the trick. Work with room-temperature eggs. Fresh eggs are always better, but that’s a kitchen-wide truth.
When it comes to baking, egg whites aren’t the most forgiving ingredients. Gramercy Tavern’s pastry chef, Miro Uskokovic, is one of those people who always gets them right. Asked for advice about egg whites, he starts with meringue. It makes sense; after all, it’s a perfect meringue that’s going to turn your cake, pavlova, or genoise into an airy delight.
The chef has advice anyone can incorporate into the fold.
When it comes to egg whites, you don’t want to kick things off too fast. Start your mixer on slow. “When people add sugar to egg whites, they whip it too quickly. When you whip quickly, you add big bubbles of air.” Big bubbles burst and collapse. Smaller bubbles are more stable. “Start at a low speed, slowly add sugar, and then go to a medium speed.” If you’re working by hand, then all that’s required are patience and stamina.
Know your sugars. “Confectioner’s sugar will give you a chewier meringue, a denser meringue,” Uskokovic says. “The lightest meringue is made with regular or super-fine white sugar. The second-lightest is made with organic sugar.”
There’s an exception to the rule about adding sugar slowly. If you’re using organic sugar, Uskokovic says, add it all at once. Organic sugar has larger crystals, which take longer to dissolve.
Trying different sugars will let you find what suits your taste. Don’t feel like you have to stick with grainy sugar. “There are many other ranges of sweeteners: maple syrup and sugar, sorghum, coconut, brown sugars . . .” The molasses content in dark sugar will make baked goods chewier and more candy-like.
Don’t expect consistent results from farmers’ market products. That shouldn’t stop you – far from it – but do be aware. “Sorghum, maple, and other locally sourced things . . . Usually, they’re not as purified as commercially made sugars. They’re made batch-to-batch; that’s the point. Egg whites are very tricky. If there are impurities, it might not work.” Uskokovic tried using sorghum in the meringue for a sorghum cake, but it wasn’t possible to get the same result every time. Commercial sugars are made to be the same every time. With an egg-white-forward dish, there’s nowhere to hide.
Temperature changes matter – and, with egg whites, there’s nothing to hide the result. “Pavlova is baked on a high temperature and then a low, because you want to make the outside crisp; the inside should still be marshmallowy.” Bake your pavlova at a high temp from the start, and it may look fine, but that compelling contrast in texture will be missing.
Sugar isn’t your only variable. If you’re lucky enough to live near a farmers’ stall or market, then you can try your egg-white fortune with duck eggs and goose eggs.
Just start slowly, know your ingredients, and you’ll soon be looking at a mile-high soufflé. Try your hand at one of these recipes.
With orange zest in the batter and saucy strawberries piled on top, this angel food cake is anything but ordinary. Get our Orange Angel Food Cake with Strawberries recipe.
Jam’s a great use for blueberries that are bruised or about to turn. Topped with an easy blueberry jam, these pavlovas are perfect for a dinner party, or to nibble while you’re binge-watching TV. For pavlova, Uskokovic likes granulated sugar, rather than confectioner’s or organic. Get the recipe.
Pistachio macarons are a classic. Once you’ve mastered egg whites, they’re surprisingly simple to make. Get our Pistachio Macarons recipe.
If you’d be delighted to eat your coffee, instead of drinking it, then this dacquoise au café – an almond meringue with coffee buttercream – is the answer to your forkiest dreams. Go ahead, have a latte with that. Nobody’s ever going to know. Get the recipe.
We’re not kidding about duck eggs. They’re a feature of this pavlova, by Ina Garten. Get the recipe.
More than a few old-school diners have staked their reputations on lemon meringue pie. With fresh zest and juice, this one is as tart as it is tall. Get the recipe. (If that one’s too geeky, then here’s a backup lemon meringue pie.)
Made with frozen raspberries, this soufflé turns summer into an all-season affair. Get the recipe.
If you’re feeling more savory than sweet, we have eleven soufflés ready to lighten your dinner. From jalapeño pumpkin to ricotta asparagus, there’s something to catch your interest and use leftover egg whites – dinner with a win.
— Head photo: Chowhound.