The Road to Souffle: Part 2

So, for part two of the souffle extravaganza, we are going to whip up some egg whites.  The white of the egg, also called albumin, contains almost no fat or carbohydrate, and is a good source of protein.  We use egg whites to make a lot of different desserts, from mousse to souffle to meringue and pie.   So what happens when you beat them?  Why do they get all foamy?  Basically, it’s all due to stress.  Two types of stress, to be exact.  One is called denaturation, which is when your whisk actually unfolds the protein molecules of the egg while beating.  The other one is the addition of oxygen into the protein molecules, which is what causes them to foam.   Obviously, the longer you beat the eggs, the more oxygen is incorporated, and the eggs get fluffier and fluffier.  There are several levels of beaten egg whites, and I’ve got a few pics in the slideshow below to demonstrate that.   Because I didn’t want to waste a batch of eggs, I didn’t show what happens when you go to far with the beating, but I’ll describe it: after stiff peaks form, you need to stop.  Otherwise, all that work you just did will be in vain because the egg whites will actually break, and once broken, they cannot be put back together.  There’s a humpty dumpty joke in there somewhere, but blah.  Anyway.   Having your egg whites break and sort of go back into a mushy lumpy state is super frustrating, especially if you are whisking by hand.  The only good part is that your biceps are gonna look awesome.

There are some things you can add to your whites to help them to perk up a bit.  First up, cream of tartar.  Just a little tiny bit, about 1/8 tsp for every egg white.  The acidity in the cream of tartar is what helps the egg whites fluff.  Same goes for just a bit of lemon juice.  Some old school purists use copper bowls to whisk their egg whites, but those are expensive and really only  useful for this purpose.   If you do use a copper bowl, don’t add acid because it will react with the copper.  The nice thing about them, however, is that they can add a lovely pinky sheen to the egg whites.

The most essential piece of advice and info I can give when it comes to egg whites, however, is to beware the fat!!  The reason why many a meringue can be unsuccessful is due to the presence of fat in the egg whites.   And that fat can sneak in in some seemingly unlikely places.  Por ejemplo, you know those awesome polypropylene bowls?  Or melamine?  Yeah, those are porous.  Anytime you put butter, or oil, or avocado, or whatever in there, a little of that fat is absorbed.  So when you go to whisk your egg whites, they won’t do anything because like it or not, there is fat present.  That’s also why it’s so important not to get any egg yolk or shell in your egg whites when you separate them out.   The best vessel in which to whisk egg whites is a stainless bowl.  If it has been used lately to make anything else, go ahead and wipe it out with a paper towel and a little lemon juice.  That’ll ensure that it is fresh and ready to go.

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