The egg will always hold a special place in my culinary endeavors for its versatility. Eggs were forbidden in our house so they were always a treat for me when I had them outside. My first attempt at cracking an egg was at my Aunt’s place in Mumbai where I always looked forward to omelets for breakfast. The vegetables were cut, the skillet was ready and it was time to crack the eggs. I volunteered to try breaking one and I was happy I was able to crack it right in the centre with a gentle ‘tink’ on the edge of the bowl. My happiness was short lived as the next moment when I pressed my thumbs into the crevice the eggshell gave way right into the yolk only to cause a large part of it to land on my toes. There! That was kind of a scarring memory from childhood and I never touched a raw egg for years to come though I continued to enjoy various egg preparations.
“I love eggs… omelets, boiled eggs, egg curry. ” This is what I remember telling my mother-in-law before marriage. One fine day, the newly wed me got the task of preparing breakfast. Little did I know that there would be a dozen eggs waiting for me on the counter top. What a loud mouth I am, I remember telling myself. Serving a crunchy eggshell omelet was not how I wanted to create my first impression. I asked my mother- in -law with the hope that they were meant to be boiled. “They are for omelets. You love omelets right?” was the reply. I sheepishly confessed that I was out of practice to which my mother-in-law demonstrated a skilled drill of cracking the eggs, then cleaning the shells of the contents and discarding the shells. I was left open mouthed by the end of it.
It’s been a couple of years since then and though I have cracked open many eggs till date, I’m still no expert. Its only when I got into baking did I realize I was absolutely right about my experience level because baking sometimes requires the eggs to be separated into the yolk and the white: as if separating the shell from the contents is not enough. I was also inspired by a particular episode on Master chef Australia season 2 where contestants had to separate eggs in a skill task which would let them proceed to the top 24 stage. I took on the challenge and separated half a dozen eggs with ease. It was mere beginners luck now that I think of it.
As I got about reading more about baking, I realized that besides being an exacting science, baking is also about mastering individual techniques involved in the making of a baked product. Whipping egg whites into forming peaks of the desired firmness is one such technique. I was in luck to come across this article, which gives a detailed description of the entire process. I bookmarked the article and forgot all about it until one day I desperately needed to take up a challenge and win! Yesterday was the day when I finally decided to whip up some egg whites …manually !
From my earlier experience, eggs are best cracked when they are cold, but whipping requires the whites to come down to room temperature. I don’t know about you, but I often buy my eggs from a tiny store, which does not sell the whitest eggs. Therefore I make sure that the surface is scrupulously clean and rinse them thoroughly under water and wipe them off with a kitchen towel.
Before beginning the process, have the following arranged on the table : One bowl for the yolks, another for the whites, a big bowl for whipping the whites and a stainless steel wire whisk with a good hold. Since I do not have a glass or copper bowl (ideal choice for the technique) I had to make do with a plastic bowl. Make sure all of them are squeaky clean with not a trace of water, grease or any other foreign matter. I wiped my utensils and the whisk with a paper napkin lightly soaked in vinegar.
Crack the eggs whichever way you are comfortable doing and make sure you get as much as white as possible without letting the yolk slip in the bowl. Even with all possible care if a piece of shell manages to get into your whites, let them stand for a while so that the shell sinks to the bottom and decant the whites carefully into another container.
Pour the whites in the big bowl and start with a swirling and lifting motion of the whisk to incorporate as much air as possible. You need not be too vigorous initially but you need to be consistent with the motion and maintain a fair amount of speed. Continue doing this till the whites start foaming. Once they foam up, increase the pace of your swirling motion and you will see the grayish foam steadily change into a fluffy and white batter. Lift the whisk for a second to observe the peak pattern.
If the peak droops a lot you still have a long way to go. Another test to check the doneness would be to tilt the position of the bowl preferably towards you. If the batter slides along the edge, even though it appears fluffy, it’s still not done. Persistence is the key here. There was a point when I thought something wasn’t right and the batter didn’t seem to whip further.
It had been a good 10-15 minutes past the time I had begun and just when I was about to give up I tried the ‘invert the bowl above your head’ test With my fingers crossed I raised the bowl and inverted it and the batter defied gravity and stuck to the bowl. Yay! This is the point where you know nothing is wrong and you are just a few minutes away from getting perfect peaks. So it took me close to 25 minutes and a terribly strained right hand to get a fluffy and firm batter.
I finished the process by some final clean strokes and pulled out the whisk from the batter to get a soft peak on top. This is the point where you can add in sugar for making meringue or you may continue whipping the batter further to get stiffer peaks. However care should be taken not to over whip, otherwise the egg whites will have a curdled appearance.
I hope one day I’ll be whipping egg whites in my own KitchenAid stand mixer but then again it’s always the fruits of hard work that bring you the biggest smile.
Do you have an egg story you would like to share? Also, I would love it if you can contribute some tips and tricks for the technique.