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maggiethecat

Egg Whites Confidential

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It's all a Big Lie, sisters and brothers.

You know how cookbook writers since Mrs Beeton (or Mrs. Attila, or Xanthippe or Eve) have scared us witless about having a single blot of egg yolk, fat or other detritis in egg whites if we want to beat them into "fluffy but dry" or "glossy peaks?" In my long cooking life I've dumped at least ten dozen egg whites because I absentmindedly dropped a whole yolk in the wrong bowl, or dribbled a tiny yellow scrap into six pristine egg whites.

We've been told that we're doomed to culinary failure if those egg whites aren't purer than the driven snow north of Frobisher Bay, more virgin than your great-aunt Gertie on her wedding night. Not so.

A few days ago I decided to make mini Pavlovas (blood orange curd and blackberry filling) for my mother's first meal home after six weeks in Hospice. (She gets to leave the premises but has to be back before nine o'clock curfew.) I can't remember the crazed cooking circumstances that led me to a)grate the peel of a lemon and an orange into the white rather than the yolk bowl b)dump a whole yolk into said bowl of whites. It was meltdown time.

I removed 90% of the egg yolk and all but a quarter teaspoon of the peel, though I couldn't do much about the citrus oil. I fired up the KitchenAid and expected watery disaster.

It didn't happen! Those whites and sugar rose to brilliant glossy peaks. In retrospect I'm glad I was so tapped out and stressed -- I wouldn't have dared attempt something I've been told was doomed to failure since I opened my first cookbook with my sticky eight-year-old finger.

Am I the only cook who's had this experience? (Gee, maybe Anna Wintour will give me a pass on wearing white shoes before Memorial Day, and a glandular problem might be causing my mailman's hairy palms.)


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Maggie,

I once sifted some cocoa powder a little too close to my bowl of whites that were about to be whipped and found my self with a bowl of whites with a film of cocoa powder on top. I too thought I was done for as I too had always been told that ANY TRACES OF FAT(does the 18% in cocoa count?) would inhibit whites from beating properly. However, they were just fine: fluffy and voluminous! So... I wonder too...is it just a myth? Or perhaps a fine line between chance and disaster?

d.

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I know what you mean about the "any fat and you're doomed" warnings but I've never experienced a tiny bit of yolk or other fat causing any major problems. Maybe slightly less volume but nothing that couldn't be worked with. I try to avoid it but I definitely don't toss the whites if it happens.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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My experience is the same as well. A bit of egg yolk does not prevent whites from whipping up, so I no longer worry about it.


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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You know what? Same here. I've always been so religious about keeping my whites "pure" too.

Now of course I'm curious. How much yolk or fat must be present to really screw with the whites

whipping ability? Is keeping your bowl and utensils grease-free a myth also? If I had the time and a bunch of extra eggs on hand, I'd certainly be trying to find out the answers to these questions. Anybody wanna give it a shot? :raz:

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This happened to me last week with batches of IMBC. I made four or five batches in a row, and one of them had nowhere near the volume of the other batches. All I could think of was that I'd broken a yolk and just didn't get all of it out - it was 30 oz of whites and I don't know how much of the yolk I didn't get out. The whites were billow-y and meringue-like but only came up halfway instead of almost to the bottom of the whip (where it attaches, which I guess should really be called the top) they way they usually do. So maybe it is a percentage of fat (from the yolk) that makes a difference.

As a side note, I'm reading Roland Mesnier's "memoirs" from his White House years and he tells the story of making a souffle for a state dinner and has to do it three times because the whites aren't whipping up the way they are supposed to. In desperation, he uses the last batch with maybe some extra sugar or something, and it comes out fine. Everyone wants seconds!

What gets me is the eggs where the white is tinged with blood - it doesn't happen to me very often, but sometimes I get an egg that is very red and other times, it's just a faint tinge of color.


Edited by JeanneCake (log)

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Maggie -- glad you posted this, as I had always heard and believed the big lie too... Now your blood orange and blackberry pavlovas sound absolutely outragous!!! Any chance you've got a picture so I can live vicariously?

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alton brown writes about this in his baking book. basically, he says that due to the power of the electric mixers which most of us use, a smidge of fat in the egg whites doesn't give you a big problem. if you're doing it by hand, you might notice it more if you have some fat in there.

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I always, always break and/or separate each egg into a custard cup, so never have this problem. It used to be, however, that I had many batches of egg white refuse to whip to their usual volume or worse, produce a cake which would shrink. I traced the cause to not-so-fresh cream of tartar. I switched over to adding a few drops of lemon juice to the whites and never have such failures now. I don't even have cream of tartar in the house, for fear it will ruin something.

By the way, you can use freshly squeezed lemon, or frozen juice from that yellow bottle. I suspect vinegar might work as well, but it doesn't sound appetizing.


Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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alton brown writes about this in his baking book.  basically, he says that due to the power of the electric mixers which most of us use, a smidge of fat in the egg whites doesn't give you a big problem.  if you're doing it by hand, you might notice it more if you have some fat in there.

I was thinking when I read this thread that with my Kitchen aid I've never had a problem, but back in my Mixmaster days a bit of yolk could prevent whipping.

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When I was in high school, my mother asked me to help her out in the kitchen by making meringue. I'd done it before, so I thought I knew how to proceed. Put the egg whites in a bowl, whip until frothy and start adding the sugar. All of which I did, except that the eggs never went much beyond the frothy stage. I asked Mom what I'd done wrong, and that's when she noticed that I'd grabbed a plastic bowl instead of a metal or ceramic one.

I started over with another bowl and the meringue worked fine. So the moral of my story is that I have no idea about a speck of egg yolk, but I'll never use a plastic bowl for egg whites again. That's a disaster waiting to happen.

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When I was in high school, my mother asked me to help her out in the kitchen by making meringue. I'd done it before, so I thought I knew how to proceed. Put the egg whites in a bowl, whip until frothy and start adding the sugar. All of which I did, except that the eggs never went much beyond the frothy stage. I asked Mom what I'd done wrong, and that's when she noticed that I'd grabbed a plastic bowl instead of a metal or ceramic one.

I started over with another bowl and the meringue worked fine. So the moral of my story is that I have no idea about a speck of egg yolk, but I'll never use a plastic bowl for egg whites again. That's a disaster waiting to happen.

That was my sweet Moma's experience with making angel food cake eons ago. She bought a new bowl for the ocassion of making the cake. One of those large plastic marbley/speckley looking melamine type bowls. She made several cakes that all flopped. Did more research, ditched the bowl and had great results.

I have always been obsessive about pristine-ness doing meringues. But I have relaxed a bit of late. I guess our great mixers are our salvation. Cool. If Mom could see us now. :biggrin:

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this is such a hilarious post, but I do remember ONE occasion where my egg whites failed after improperly cleaning the bowl previously used for buttercream. Since it HARDLY ever happens, it took me quite a while to identify the problem. So I think it's like 1 in 1000 chance of egg whites failing due to oil. ;)


Stephanie Crocker

Sugar Bakery + Cafe

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It makes sense that a plactic bowl wouldn't be a great vessel in which to whip egg whites. It also makes sense that the higher-powered modern stand mixer might be able to overcome a tainted white where a whisk and a wrist -- or my grandmother's Mixmaster -- couldn't.

I promise that when I next beat egg whites I'll deliberately leave some yellow stuff in a couple, then whip two virgin beauties. This might be in a few days: if any of you have cause to beat egg whites in the near future and don't mind a walk on the wild side (eggs are cheap, right?) please keep us posted.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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The perpetrators of this big lie should be forced to write personal letters of apology to every hen that ever squeezed out an egg that was discarded on account of it.

I'm outraged.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It seems to be a kind of hit & miss thing.

I've had whites with a wisp of yolk not meringue or whip decently and then have an actual speck or spot of yolk in them and have them whip swell.

Wonder if temperature plays a part?


2317/5000

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It seems to be a kind of hit & miss thing.

I've had whites with a wisp of yolk not meringue or whip decently and then have an actual speck or spot of yolk in them and have them whip swell.

Wonder if temperature plays a part?

Temperature really does play a part. Room temp or warm whites beat up faster and more stable than cold ones. I've warmed them over a water bath or with a blow torch while whipping to get them there. Something about the proteins unwinding and being able to absorb more air.

As for the yolk-in-the-whites thing, I think it is proportion. I was trying to be healthy and decided to make scrambled eggs with 2 yolks and something like 5 whites and it got pretty frothy but didn't even double. I've also used whites pooled from several days of separating by different people (in the days of 60+ creme brulees a day, and now at school) with bits of yolk and they have whipped up just as high as fresh "uncontaminated" whites.

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Does the freshness of the eggs make a difference to how well they whip up? I seem to remember that it does, but I cant remember if it is eggs that are too fresh or eggs that are a bit old are the problem. Perhaps the bit of egg yolk gets the blame. Perhaps a bit of egg yolk in the whites is more likely if the eggs are too fresh or too old, and the yolk got the blame.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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I believe the older eggs whip up better than fresh.

Somebody who worked for me for a while told me that while in culinary school she was taught that one shouldn't use your hands for separating eggs because the natural oils in your skin will be too much for the eggs to whip well. I think it's hogwash.

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Definitely you can whip whites into a stable foam even if they have some fat in them. Another truism you hear a lot is that the presence of fat in egg whites will decrease their whipped volume. I wonder if that trusim is true?


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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There is an interesting claim in the April 2004 article To Foam or not to Foam in Food Product Design:

Thus, if it appears that liquid egg white is not reaching its potential in foam volume, it may be because it is contaminated by egg yolk, which is about one-third lipid. A single drop of yolk in egg white can reduce the foam's maximum volume by as much as two-thirds. In general, egg product suppliers strive to keep yolk contamination of egg white below 0.05%.

Next time I'm really bored I might test that out and see what happens.


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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The perpetrators of this big lie should be forced to write personal letters of apology to every hen that ever squeezed out an egg that was discarded on account of it.

I'm outraged.

It's not a big lie if you don't have a stand mixer. You can get short of soft peaks with a well designed whisk, a metal bowl and contaminated whites, but you can't actually get to soft peaks. Same equipment and clean whites whip up to stiff peaks in about the same time a stand mixer would take.

Yes, I've tried. No, I don't have a stand mixer. Yes, I was ticked.

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