Cooking Tips · Techniques

Egg White Foam

Have you heard of the term “Egg White Foam”? It is a culinary term that describes what happens when you beat egg whites – they increase in volume and turn into a foam. It is what you do when you want to make an angel food cake, a meringue or a soufflé. This tip will go over how to achieve the best foam, what could go wrong and the adjustments that those of us who live at altitude need to make.

If you read about how to whip egg whites, you will probably run across many Dos & Don’ts. As with so much cooking advice, these rules keep getting passed on without anyone stopping to test whether they are really true. In this Cooking Tip, I have sought out real research to help you have success.

  • The temperature of the egg whites can make a difference.
    Warmer egg whites may whip up faster but you can still easily whip cold egg whites. It may take slightly longer but it is not a game-changer.

  • The age of the egg whites can make a difference.
    There seems to be a debate among experts but the general consensus is that older egg whites whip up faster but the resulting foam will be less stable than if you had used fresher egg whites. So, decide based on which is more important to you –volume or stability. Or, just use what is in your refrigerator knowing that the age can make a difference.

  • Your bowl can make a difference.
    The basis for this rule is that plastic bowls may harbor grease on their surfaces which is hard to eliminate with washing. This grease may inhibit the forming of a great foam. If given the choice, it is best to use a glass or stainless-steel bowl. However, if plastic is all you have, just make sure it is clean. You will probably be OK.

  • Don’t add salt to your foam.
    Adding salt used to be recommended to help stabilize the foam. It has been shown that salt, in fact, can act as a destabilizer. If your recipe calls for salt, add it to the dry ingredients, not your egg whites.

  • Cream of tartar is a good idea.
    Cream of tartar helps to prevent overbeating of your egg whites, which can lead to a recipe failure.

  • Be careful of when you add sugar to your foam.
    If you add all the sugar at the beginning, it inhibits the foam’s capacity for holding air. If you add it slowly only after you have soft peaks & a significant increase in volume, you allow the foam to incorporate the necessary air. Also, adding it slowly helps to prevent the sugar crystals from popping your wonderful air bubbles.

  • Don’t overbeat your egg whites.
    This is one rule that is actually very important. Overbeating your whites is another thing that will lead to that dreaded recipe failure. Most recipes will specify what you should do – beat your whites to soft peaks or stiff peaks.

Soft peaks do not stand up on their own and will start to become glossy. Stiff peaks will be sharp and not droopy. Overbeaten whites will look dry or even lumpy. You may also see a watery mess at the bottom of the bowl. If this happens, there is no solution. You must dump them out and start over.

Once you reach soft peaks, it does not take much time to get to stiff peaks. It is so easy to overbeat. So, it is better to under-beat. This is especially true at altitude. Let me give you an example. Some recipes for soufflés call for you to beat to stiff peaks. However, if you do this, your soufflé will probably not rise. When you put it in the oven, all those beautiful air bubbles will pop and deflate before the surrounding cake has time to set.

If you beat only to soft peaks, you will get much better results. When you tilt the bowl containing the egg whites, they should still move just a tiny bit. These air bubbles can retain their volume while the surrounding cake sets – giving you a beautiful risen soufflé.

  • Beware of getting fat/yolk into your egg whites.
    As with so many things, this is partially true. Fat does inhibit creating a nice foam. It will take longer to beat up to peaks, the volume will be less and the resulting foam will be less stable.

The other side of this is that it depends on how much fat gets into your whites. Will a speck of yolk destroy your foam? No. Will a larger amount of yolk cause you problems? Yes, depending on how much yolk and how many whites you are beating. Here is a link to a great site with photos that actually tested this theory.

  • Don’t beat too quickly.
    For the best and most stable foam, start out beating slowly. Use a low or med-low speed. The whites will lighten in color, develop large air bubbles & look foamy. As you continue to beat at this speed, the foam will start to increase in volume, become whiter and the size of the air bubbles will decrease. As the bubbles become even smaller, you can increase to medium high to achieve your desired peak.

The holidays are a great excuse to make that wonderful, special dessert such as a meringue or a souffle. With these tips, I trust you will have success. Let me know and send me a picture of your results!