Sunday, November 01, 2009

All About Eggs for Baking

I confess...I'm more of a cook than a say nothing about the fact that I've never done well with science. I was the girl who almost blew up the chem lab in high school.

So I need all the help I can get when it comes to the chemistry aspect of baking and the biggest question is always about when to keep ingredients chilled and when to let them come to room temperature...which by the way means around 72°F/22°C. So if you live in a hot climate, that probably only takes about 20 minutes.
Let's start with the EGG conundrum and I'll follow up with the butter issues next:

According to all my baking books (I'll reference them throughout), you should use the freshest LARGE eggs of the highest quality that you can find, store them in the fridge and then to get them to room temperature, leave them on the counter for 30 minutes. If you're in a hurry you can dunk them in a pot of hot water for a minute (according to Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking) or leave in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes (according to Elizabeth Baird of The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book).

But...they all say that if you need to separate egg whites and yolks, it's better/easier to do that cold and keep them separate on the counter until room temperature AFTER you've separated them. The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook (one of my best reference sources) and my mother have this important tip for separating eggs. You need THREE bowls: one for the initial separation of the egg whites. If there are no bits of shell or egg yolk, or the obvious bad egg (you'll know by the smell), transfer to a clean bowl. Lastly, put the yolks in a third bowl and start the process over, each time you separate an egg, do the initial separation into the first bowl. That way, at worst, you lose only one egg and not all of them.

Beating or whipping or whisking...a whisk does aerate the best and that is what you want for egg whites to peak. It is also recommended by The Cook's Book and others that the bowl is just as important as the freshness and temperature of the eggs. Avoid plastic which can retain a grease film no matter how well you wash it. Their favorite for stable, voluminous whites is unlined copper because of some positive reaction between the whites and copper...see what I mean about chemistry?...but stainless steel or glass are fine options. A pinch of cream of tartar (my mother's choice, too) acts as a stabilizer.

Here are some other tips for awesome egg whites from The Cook's Book:

1. Make sure the inside of the bowl is spotlessly clean and free of grease. Especially if you are using copper, you may want to wipe the interior of the bowl with lemon juice or vinegar, rinse and dry thoroughly.

2. Whites will "mount" more easily if they're at room temperature.

3. When separating, take care to prevent any yolk from falling into and contaminating the whites.

4. Use a large balloon whisk which is perfectly clean.

5. Beat just until the whites are stiff but not dry.

6. Use beaten whites as soon as possible to preserve their volume.

7. You can beat egg whites with an electric mixer but NEVER A BLENDER OR FOOD PROCESSOR.
My own note...back to separating the eggs...I've watched many a chef - professional and self (or mom) taught excellent home baker. It seems there are a few different ways to do this job.

1. You could buy an egg separator and just place it over a measuring cup. The yolk will stay in the center and the whites will fall into the cup. This is when you'd move the yolk/shell free whites to one bowl and the yolks to another;

2. You could use the shell and gently move the yolk from one half to the other, over a bowl, making sure that you don't nick the yolk with a sharp edge of the shell until all the whites are in the bowl and the yolk remains in one half of the shell. This one can be tricky.

3. You could use your hand as the "separator". Just crack the egg, place one hand, palm up over a clean bowl, spread the egg shell so that the entire egg falls into your palm. Wiggle your hand so that all the whites slides through your fingers, while guarding the yolk. Not for the squeamish.

Back to yolks for a moment...there is a term I've seen often in my baking books...Tempering which is simply means the blending of ingredients of different temperatures and that you need to SLOWLY increase the heat of cold one into the hot. This is particularly critical with egg dishes...unless, of course, you like lumpy, scrambled or curdled eggs in your finished dish. Dorie Greenspan in Baking from my home to yours, has an additional important note: When egg yolks meet up with sugar (when you make cookies, for example and have to beat eggs, sugar and butter before adding dry ingredients). As soon as sugar comes in contact with yolks, it begins to "burn" the yolks...causing them to develop small avoid this, make sure to whisk the two ingredients together as soon as they are put in the same bowl and do not allow them to sit.
Elizabeth Baird and the CL team has this to say about tempering eggs:
" If cold eggs are added to hot liquids, there is a real danger that they will cook on contact - scrambled instead of combining with liquid into a silky custard. Tempering warms up cold eggs and allows them to be incorporated into hot mixtures smoothly without curds."

The technique:
In a bowl, whisk eggs until evenly yellow.

While whisking the eggs, gradually pour in the hot liquid. The amount of liquid should be roughly half the volume of the eggs. Whisk in additional hot liquid, up to about one third of the liquid.

For creme anglaise or other stirred custards, whisk the warmed eggs and liquid back into the pan with the remaining liquid and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens enough to cat the back of a spoon.

For baked puddings with a custard base, whisk all the hot liquid slowly into the eggs before pouring into the baking dishes.
If you have any other tips about eggs, please leave them in the comments.

Next up...all about butter.

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