Egg whites are used in a wide variety of baked goods. This thick, clear liquid makes up most of the weight of the egg. A mixture of water and protein, the egg white gives baked goods structure, color, texture, flavor, and richness. As one of the main wet ingredients in most baked goods, eggs help to bind together all of the dry ingredients. Egg whites can be incorporated in your recipes in several main ways: beating, whisking, and whipping. Here are a few important tips when using egg whites in baking:
- Store the eggs correctly. When using eggs for baked goods, it is especially important to store them correctly. Refrigerate in the carton, away from items with strong odors, because eggs can absorb these odors. Egg whites should be used immediately once the egg is cracked; any leftover egg whites may be stored in a tightly sealed, refrigerated container for up to a week, or frozen for up to a month. Still, for best results, use fresh eggs for your baked goods; if you must use frozen egg whites, use them in recipes where the egg is not the only leavening ingredient.
- Use clean utensils. If the bowl or spatula you use to beat or mix the egg whites has even a little oil, the eggs will not obtain the correct texture. Do not use a plastic bowl for beating egg whites, because the plastic can attract oils and greases. Copper bowls are often recommended for maximum volume when beating egg whites.
- Crack the egg correctly. Some people find that it is easiest to crack eggs if they are very cold. Be very careful not to get any of the yolk in with the white. This will keep the whites from gaining the correct texture when beaten. To use the egg white, crack the egg and then let the white drain into a bowl, white transferring the yolk between the two egg shell halves. When all of the white has drained, put the yolk in a second bowl, or discard it if it is not needed. Wait until the egg whites warm to room temperature before beginning to mix them.
- Beat to exactly the right stage. Your recipe may call for beating the egg whites until they reach a soft peak, a stiff peak, or some other designation. The “peak” refers to the part of the beaten egg whites that sticks up from the rest when you pull your spatula or beater out of the bowl. It is stiff if it will stand up on its own, and weak if it falls almost immediately after you pull the beater out. Be very careful not to over- or under-mix your egg whites, because they will not have the right amount of air incorporated into them. Some recipes call for the addition of cream of tartar or lemon juice to aid in the whipping process; do not add them if they are not called for.
- Fold the egg whites into the heavier ingredients. Never mix the batter or dry ingredients into the egg whites. Instead, gently fold the egg whites into the heavier mixture. Fold quickly, and avoid over-stirring, which can deflate the beaten egg whites. Start folding them in as soon as you finish beating them, because beaten egg whites start losing their volume almost immediately.
Egg whites appear in nearly every category of baked goods, especially meringues and cakes. It’s important to know how to use them correctly if you want your baked goods to turn out as intended.