Now that we have the required Devo reference out of the way. We fully expected this edition of the newsletter to be the simple one, yes? Eric and I both jockeyed to get to write it thinking… whisks, folding, what could possibly go wrong, right? Wrong? How about all of it. Let us disabuse you of a simple notion: There’s a whole lot more to whisking something up than a simple ‘Whisk goes in the bowl, whisk goes roundy-roundy.’ A lot more. There’s tools, and techniques, there’s ingredients and temperature control oh my.
Having said all of that… we are going to be focusing exclusively on non-mechanical means of whipping things. First, because this is one of several tests of true cooks: can you whip egg whites into a thick, brilliantly white snowy mixture? By hand? The second reason is that we have a hard time not giggling like schoolboys when someone mentions using a machine to whip something. Yes, we admit to being juveniles, we’re comfortable with ourselves.
The most common, possibly even the only tool used to whip things in modern kitchens is the whisk. But which one? Oooh, how about a quick rundown of some of the variations on whisks out there and pointers to some of the best on the market?
Balloon Whisk: This is the basic whisk that will end up doing most of the heavy lifting in your kitchen. With wide round forms on each wire, there will be plenty of ‘action’ on the wires as they work through your task. When shopping look for:
- More wires = less work so the more the merrier!
- Wire spring = less work too! As you bounce the wires off the bottom of the pan they come back up faster than your hand can move them. Makes sense to not choose overly stiff wires then, eh?
- Great balance = less wrist fatigue. No sharp edges on the handle, not too big, not too small.
- Light weight. Simple, really.
With those criteria in mind we recommend two whisks, first the Cuisipro Sillicone Egg Whisk which Cook’s Illustrated voted best among six whisks that they tested. And second, the Oxo 11” Balloon Whisk, with more wires than C3PO’s six-pack and Oxo’s typically amazing handle, what’s not to love?
French Whisk: Similar to the balloon whisk, but the wires are shaped into longer, narrower loops. The logic behind this is that these whisks can get into the corners of taller pots and pans easier than a wide balloon whisk. This is a great alternative when working in a tall, deep stock pot. Use the same criteria as above. Our choice here again leads us back into Oxo territory with the Oxo Steel 11” French Whisk.
Ball Whisk: Proving that even in such well-traveled territory as whisks there is still room for innovation the ball whisk looks more like a modern art item than a proven kitchen tool. But don’t discard it so quickly… the thing is those balls. As you are whisking they vibrate the wires around much faster than you can move them by hand. Plus there’s not a container made that they can’t get into the corners of. Ball whisks are equally at home working on a roux, in egg whites or almost anywhere else. In fact the only place they run into trouble is the really thick things that take some strength to cut through. For that reach for the good old balloon whisk. For this we like to break out the WMF Profi-Plus 11-inch model.
Misc Whisks: There are several other forms for such a basic tool, but the three above will do 90% of all of the whisking you will ever need. Sure, dally around with your gravy whisk, have a fling with the flat or twirl whisks. If you’re particularly daring you can even give a tornado whisk a ride, but you’ll be coming back to the big three after your done.
But there is one… this is a specialty, once-in-a-blue-moon and definitely for the DIY’ers in our audience. A bundle of thin twigs or branches from a tree outside. If you do this when the tree is in blossom whatever you are whipping will acquire some light aroma from the wood, so cherry or pecan would be good additions. The reason we bring this one up is that you don’t have to use trees, in fact bushes or herb plants will probably do well. Any plant that produces a long, thin, whippish-like branch is a candidate. Surely there are easier ways to get that flavor into egg whites… but there it is. Don’t say we aren’t thorough here at the Social Skillet.
For today’s lesson we are going to concentrate specifically on whipping egg whites, if you can do this then everything else is cake. Or meringue. Either way. You ready to whip up some egg whites, by hand?
To start: Assemble your tools. Get your whisk of choice and a non-reactive bowl; stainless steel is good and readily available. Make sure that both the whisk and bowl are completely oil free, freshly washed is good. Get the required number of eggs if following a recipe or if you are practicing just grab one, two at most. Using a decent-sized cloth dish towel, twist the towel out like a long snake and then coil it on the counter like you were making a small wreath. This provides a secure surface to place the bowl while you work. Nestle the bowl down into the towel with the bowl’s opening pointing toward your dominant hand. Excellent, now let’s whip!
Separate the room-temperature egg whites into the bowl. You can use eggs straight from the fridge and they will whip up fine, but room temp whites form up faster with better stability. Remember in the last paragraph where we were very clear about not having any oil in the mix? Guess which yellow-ish part of the egg is loaded with oils? Yes, the yolk. IF you happen to get a drop of yolk into the mix you can try to remove it using a chunk of eggshell or a spoon, but you may not be successful. To be really safe, do your separating of the eggs into other bowls/cups and transfer the clean whites into the mixing bowl.
Now, grab your whisk and go to work. Your grip is whatever is most comfortable for you, but most folks settle into either the same grip as holding a pencil with the whisk head aimed back towards them, or the same grip as a tennis racket. Whatever grip gives you the best stamina and comfort. Also, since this is a 10 minute process, you are likely to transfer from one grip back to another several times.
During those ten minutes the egg whites will go through three stages. First, they will be completely liquid and the mucous membranes will still be thick lumps dancing around the bowl. At this stage you just want to get the mass moving and keep it going. These don’t have to be herculean strokes here and you aren’t setting a speed record. This will probably take 2 minutes or so. At the end of this stage the ‘whites’ will have taken on a grayish tone.
Here's a time-lapse of the whole process here. Don't forget to click on the image to get it to animate!
After those two minutes the mucous will have broken up and the liquid will start to hold onto some of the air you are putting into it. Perfect. For stage two let’s pick up the pace a bit and at this point you can start to lightly bounce the wires of the whisk off the bottom of the bowl. Their springy rebound will do some of the work for you. Stage Two will take a bit longer, 3-5 minutes and this is the stage where the whites are starting to form up. The mass will change from liquid to a thin foam and increase in size, maybe doubling. One important note is that once you enter Stage Two you have to proceed through to finish, no stopping. Switch grips, switch hands or even switch cooks if you need a break, but keep the liquid moving along at a nice clip.
Stage Three is easy to spot: Nice, foamy, creamy whites are forming. This final stage is all about incorporating enough air to stabilize the whole thing and get the ‘peaks’ that most recipes refer to. Still with strong, fast strokes keep working the mix. As soon as you think they are almost ready pull the whisk up out of the whites and you are watching to see of the peak the forms falls back into the mix or not. When it doesn’t, you are pretty much done with the mix. Of course you have to use the whites in whatever you are baking, and get this… incorporate them quickly. At this point the egg whites natural enemy is the very thing that made them: air. You don’t want them drying out, that would be bad for the rise of whatever baked goods they are destined for later.
Cold. That’s the keyword when whipping cream. Look, what your doing is forcing the fats in the cream (we’ll come back to those in a second) to join together wrapped around… yep, bubbles of air. The smaller bubbles and the more fats joined make for a thicker, stronger cream. So, cold, and lots of it is the key to success here, in fact go ahead and freeze your whisk and bowl for about 15 minutes prior to whipping time. Also, if your kitchen is hot then you are going to have a hard time with the process, that’s why pastry chefs normally have their shift before the big ovens in the kitchen fire up at dinner time and things get steamy in the kitchen.
And those fats? You want cream with lots of fats. In fact heavy whipping cream is usually no less than 30% fat. If you can come across raw milk (don’t tell the FDA on us!) the fact that it hasn’t been pasteurized will make for really easy whipping.
So it’s all puppy kisses and creme fraiche, right? No, there is one thing you absolutely have to watch out for. Over whipping. But in this case we refer to over whipping as butter. Yes indeed, kids, the transition from liquid cream to whipped cream takes several minutes. Once you hit that though, the transition from there to a tub of “I Can’t Believe Its Butter” is about ten seconds. It will happen fast and irreversibly if you aren’t careful. And this means you have to know your recipe, if it tells you to whip the cream to peaks and then whip in something else then know that you need to stop at soft peaks and expect the final whipping to take you up to, and not beyond, perfectly whipped cream.
As for the actual technique? Just scroll up above and pay attention to what we did with the egg whites, but remember to keep it cold, use heavy whipping cream and don’t over do it. You’ll do just fine.
Compared to the rocket science up above folding is simplicity itself. You want to use a spatula with the largest surface area you have and incorporate one light ingredient (like the whipped eggs or cream above) into a heavier ingredient like a cake batter or such. In all of this make sure you are being gentle and doing your best to knock as little air out of the whipped ingredient as you can.
Empty the whipped goods onto the heavier element and then using your spatula you want to gently cut down through the center and ‘fold’ one half of the mix over onto the other half, or as close as you can manage. Repeat until the two mixes are uniformly combined.
So that does it for our run through whipping and that also does it for the second of our Holy Trinity, the Spoon. Coming up next week we’ll start to dig into our favorite topic, The Flame. This is the part that makes cooking… well, cooking. All the work we’ve done so far is merely prep work to the actual act of putting flame to the ingredients to make food. See you all next Monday!
- Lee & Eric