Foamed egg whites are used in many recipes, especially low carb recipes, because they provide leavening (fluffiness) without requiring flour. For a typical usage, see our Japanese Cheesecake Recipe, or our Meringue Recipes.
- Beat at room temperature – Eggs are easier to separate when cold, because yolks break more easily at room temperature. But egg whites should be brought to room temperature before foaming. This is because egg white protein is more elastic at room temperature, so they fluff faster and bigger, with a finer texture at room temperature.
- Even a trace of fat will interfere with properly whipping egg whites – Fat from leftover oil or butter in the mixing bowl, egg yolks from partially separated eggs, or even incompletely rinsed detergent can prevent your foam from forming. Even oil residue on the egg beaters must be cleaned before starting. As a final safety check, you can rinse the bowl and beaters with a mild acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, which will also help to stabilize the final foam.
- Seriously, use an electric beater. Using a whisk is great if you’re a French chef in the 1600’s. Otherwise, the forearm workout isn’t worth the pain and the decreased fluffiness. Electric.
Stabilizing the Foam
- Adding an acid during step 2 below, when the whites are just beginning to become frothy, can stabilize the foam. Use about 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar per egg white, or about a quarter teaspoon lemon juice per egg white.
- Sugar also helps to stabilize the beaten egg foams. When adding sugar, add very slowly at the side of the bowl while the whites are being whipped, to avoid deflating the whites. Generally, it’s best to add sugar at the “soft peak” stage.
- Adding water can increase the volume of egg white foam, but too much can decrease the stability of the foam.
What kind of mixing bowl?
- Using a copper mixing bowl allows copper ions to react chemically with the conalbumin in the egg whites, which helps form a more stable, more moist foam. This can prevent you from needing to use cream of tartar.
- Before using a copper mixing bowl, scour the bowl with a quarter cup of vinegar or lemon juice and a tablespoon of salt, then rinse it and dry thoroughly before beginning.
- Never use plastic or wood bowls, because they are porous, and can retain fat from previous uses.
- Never use an aluminum bowl, because the aluminum reacts with egg whites, causing them to turn slightly gray.
Egg White Foam – Tips and Tricks
- Copper Mixing Bowl
- 2 Egg whites Minimum of 2. Old egg whites beat to higher volume, but are less stable and collapse sooner
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar 1/8th of a tsp per egg white. Stabilizes foam. Lemon juice can also work.
Egg Whites go through 5 stages when being whipped
- Stage 1 – raw
Stage 2 – frothy, foamy, cloudy
Stage 3 – soft peaks
Stage 4 – firm peaks
Stage 5 – stiff peaks
Stage 1 – Raw
- When you begin whipping the egg whites, always start the mixer on low speed, until the egg whites are foamy, then gradually increase the speed. Beginning slowly will allow the egg whites to reach their fullest volume.
Stage 2 – Frothy, Foamy
- Continue on low to medium speed. Cream of tartar can be added at this stage if needed. Gradually increase the mixer speed to medium/high.
Stage 3 – Soft Peaks
- Gradually increase mixer speed to high. If you are adding sugar, generally do so at this stage, a little of the time, at the edge of the bowl. Stop here for ordinary or soft meringue.
If adding any extracts, quickly and evenly sprinkle while the mixer is still running, at the very end.
- At the completion of this stage, the foam should hold a peak when the mixer is withdrawn, but the peak should easily collapse into the foam with any light jostling.
Stage 4 – Firm Peaks
- For a stiff meringue, at the sugar at this stage. Use the same technique described above, adding slowly. Mixer should remain on high.
If adding extracts, sprinkle evenly over the meringue, prior to stopping the mixer, toward the end of the process.
- At the completion of this stage, the foam should hold its peaks, which should be straight, and hold their shape even with light jostling. The foam will be smooth, moist, and shiny.
Stage 5 – Stiff Peaks
- Continuing to beat on high, the egg white foam will continue to stiffen.
- At the completion of the stage, the whites have become very glossy, and very stiff. If the whites become dry and dull, they are over-beaten. This can happen quickly, in as little as 30 seconds.
Because copper binds to conalbumin, it also protects against over beating, by minimizing the number of egg white proteins that are free to denature and coagulate.
- Egg whites are losing air bubbles (deflating) as soon as you stop whipping them, so incorporate them as soon as possible into the batter. A spatula is the best tool for folding.
- Beating, stirring, and jarring can break down the foam; when you fold the egg whites in, use a gentle touch. See our tips on folding post.
- Rescue overbeaten egg whites by adding one extra egg white and beating again. Doesn’t always work, but it’s sometimes worth a try.
- When cooking a recipe using beaten egg whites, it is best to use ungreased pan sides, that allow the egg whites to cling while they are rising in the oven. This allows for the maximum rise, preventing egg whites from slipping downward.
- In general, it is best to cook egg white leavened recipes in the lower one-third of the oven, to minimize direct heat.