Quick Tip: Beating Egg Whites

Clouds of meringue, creamy soufflés, pillowy sponge cake--these elegant dishes can be the pride of any table...and they can be particularly aggravating when they don't go as planned.

There are several pitfalls in whipping egg whites to the perfect degree of foamy stiffness; we just talked about how to whip just a small amount of egg whites and also how to accomplish that sometimes tricky folding.

But what about that most crucial step in the process - getting egg whites to stiffen just enough for our meringue, soufflé, or glossy marshmallow frosting? Beaten egg whites are the foundation of these recipes and many others. Officially speaking, all we're doing is incorporating air into the egg white to create structure and volume. What could be simpler, right?!

Whenever you're beating eggs, start off slowly and gradually work up to a high speed. While beating egg whites by hand is a great upper-body workout, a hand mixer or standing mixer does the job in less time and tends to give you a more uniform structure.

Eggs beat best if they are fresh and cold. This produces small, tight bubbles that hold up well and won't deflate as easily when you're doing things like piping out meringue or folding whites into cake batter.

When whites are older or at room temperature they will whip up more quickly and to a greater volume, but this produces big bubbles with a less stable structure. While not ideal for meringues, this would be great for a souffle where there aren't a lot of other heavy ingredients weighing down the egg whites and you're cooking the dish right away.

Whipping whites in a copper bowl is great if you have one, but metal or glass bowls will work just fine. Never use a plastic bowl because fat particles often get into knicks and scratches in the plastic and interfere with beating the egg whites.

Anyone else have any good tips for beating egg whites?

(Photo Credit: Retro Egg Beater, $15.00 at CS Post & Co.)