Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fickle Egg Whites

After such glaring Catalan Salt Pinch Cake catastrophies, my frustration has been replaced by curiosity. What is going, or more specifically, not going on here?

Sleuthing around I discovered a few truths about the touchiness of egg whites and their ability to foam, reach various stages of peaks and ultimately meringue. Evidently, humidity is enemy number one.

Baking 911 offered a great deal of information:

"If it is humid or raining outside, sometimes you won't get the proper volume no matter what you do."

It's been rainy and foggy in my neck of the woods. Right now we are at 93% humidity and climbing. Driving visibility is down to one-half mile. Faithy, however, bakes in extreme humidity and produces lovely creations.

There is also the question of how sugar is added to the whipped egg whites.

"In foam-type cakes, sugar interacts with egg proteins to stabilize the whipped foam structure. Sugar makes the egg foam more elastic so that air- cells call expand and take up gases from the leavening agent. Sugar stabilizes the batter and also delays the evaporation of water from the egg white foam in the oven. This is good because it allows its protein structure ample time to rise and then set.
It is very important to be aware of when you add the sugar to the egg whites. If adding in a 1/4 cup or less of sugar, add at the "raw egg white stage". Otherwise, begin to slowly add it in the "soft peak stage". In either case, always add sugar in a stream, slowly at the side of the bowl while the whites are being whipped; do not dump it in the center -- you don't want to risk deflating the whites. "

I think this is the culprit. For fun, I'm going to play with egg whites and sugar, as Marie has made me promise to stop making anymore Catalan Salt Pinch Cake sculptures.

The question of beating egg whites at room temperature or cold did not affect others' success.

Baking 911 had this to say:

"To get the highest egg whites, whip room temperature egg whites, not cold ones; it's because the egg's protein is more elastic and will create more tiny air bubbles. Also, the colder their temperature, the longer the beating time will be."

I feel greatly enlightened. Whether this translates into a successful cake is another thing entirely. But I wouldn't know....because I won't be baking any cakes today.....maybe....
I thought I'd spend the day visiting a friend, Manuel. From Fawlty Towers. He's from Barcelona. He's promised to show me the baking secrets of Catalan. After he makes us paella for lunch.


  1. Your Catalan Salt Pinch Cake sounds like my experience with Golden Genoise...I think I was into double digits...sigh...but looking at the glass half full, perhaps this will be a learning experience. I admire your persistence and your creative names for your flops! UFO Cake -- too funny!

  2. Oh yes, humidity plays a huge factor when using meringue. Huge. Best to make meringue on non-humid days. That goes for any recipe involving meringue.

  3. you are tenacious! i would have given up after the second cake.
    i like your inquisitive spirit--i hope you report back on what you learned from playing around with the egg whites. isn't it fun to learn about all this baking chemistry?
    here in portland the air is almost always laden with moisture it seems. room temp egg whites has always made a (positive) difference for me.

  4. I admire your "never give up" spirit Vicki! :) Oh..i wanted to ask if you did time yourself 2 mins between each egg yolk addition interval? I timed mine and realised that if you are waiting by the mixer, waiting for 2mins to pass is like waiting for a L-O-N-G time. If i hadn't set the timer for every 2 mins, i would have added the egg yolks in at a faster interval.

  5. Oh..i wanted to add, that i almost always use aged eggwhites (since i have plenty in the freezer). Aged egg whites always the requirement for making macarons, so most of my egg whites are aged - which i read provides stability to the meringue. And always room temperature egg whites. :)

  6. Yes, I have also heard that really fresh egg whites do not beat up well. Your eggs should be several days old at least.

  7. If your egg carton has a USDA stamp, you can read the Julian code date to tell when your eggs were packaged:


  8. Thanks y'all! Really helpful hints and encouragement.