Baking School: Your Guide to Egg Whites

by Rose Olson, Co-op Bakery Manager

Eggs are an important tool in any baker’s repertoire. They act as a leavener, create structure, and add richness and color to many baked goods. Egg whites and yolks serve different purposes and also work well as a team. Egg yolks contain all the fat content of the egg while the whites contain the proteins. When whipped, egg whites turn into a fluffy foam that can have many practical and delicious baking purposes.

Whipped egg whites are generally classified in three stages according to the peaks formed – soft, firm, and stiff peaks. It is possible to overbeat egg whites. Egg whites have this cool ability to turn into foam when agitated because as your whisk drags through them, it is pulling and unraveling all the tiny protein strands causing them to denature.

Many of us may feel intimidated to make a luscious chocolate mousse or an impressive pavlova when the recipe tells us to whip our egg whites to stiff glossy peaks. How do you know when your egg whites are stiff peaks rather than soft or firm peaks?

We’ll start with some general tips:

-Eggs are easiest to separate while cold, but whip best at room temp.

- Make sure your bowl and beater are clean and dry. Any traces of fat or water will prevent your egg whites from whipping up properly

- If adding sugar, do so gradually and not all at once.

Using the whisk attachment on your mixer, you can pull the speed up pretty high as egg whites can take quite a while to get up to full volume. The way to test which stage your whites are at is simply to lift the whisk straight out of the egg whites and take a peek at the peak that forms.

A soft peak will barely hold its shape and will flop over immediately. At this stage, the egg whites will usually still move around and flow in the bowl when tilted.

Medium or firm peaks hold their shape pretty well, except the tip of the peak will curl under and they will stay put in the bowl if you move it.

Stiff peaks will maintain a firm pointed shape when the whisk is lifted and will not curl around itself even when turned upside down. At this point, the egg whites have reached their maximum volume.

If you keep whisking and the eggs begin to look dry or granular, they are overbeaten. It may be possible to save overbeaten egg whites by adding a fresh white and beat again until you have reached the desired consistency.

Baking is a skill that improves with practice, so be patient with yourself and have fun with it!