Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Eggs, emphasis on successful baking with them

Eggs are such scary things in their natural state: fragile in the shell, slimy and slippery out of it. If your hand slips while cracking one into a bowl of batter, you may end up trying unsuccessfully to fish out hard, sharp little shards of shell which would give an eater an unpleasant surprise if they are left in (no, it can't masquerade as a nut!). If you need to separate eggs and beat the egg whites separately, the tiniest bit of yolk or oil in the whites can deflate the whole thing -- or so we've been taught. And, of course, there's that salmonella scare. This blog post will be a primer on safe and successful egg handling and use.

First, wash the eggs. (I'm assuming you started the whole baking session by washing your hands, but if you didn't -- do that, too.) Don't assume that "cage free" or "organic" or "vegetarian" means "clean." Even free-range, organic, vegetarian hens don't have what we would consider good personal hygiene (I'm trying to be subtle here). And who else has touched those eggs? An egg packer who never washes his/her hands after using the bathroom? Another shopper who sneezed onto them while inspecting them for cracks (and then rejected them because she's sneezed on them? Don't think it doesn't happen.) Maybe just the careful cashier at the check-out who conscientiously opened the box to make sure they were all whole (but who has been handling cash all day). So -- wash the eggs. Warm water, soap -- just like you wash your hands.

If you are making a cake or other dish where volume matters, warm up your eggs. Easiest way is to take them out an hour or more in advance (but not more than two hours); fastest is to put them in a bowl of hot (but not boiling) water and let them sit while you get out the rest of your ingredients. (If you boil the water, or microwave it so that it is really hot, you will partially cook your eggs. Don't ask how I know that. The Big Pink Cupcake got where she is today by making LOTS of mistakes.)

Now comes the bowl-using part of the process. (I consider it a successful baking session if I have used every available item in the kitchen, but not everyone strives for my high standards of mess.) If you are adding whole eggs to a cake or other dough, get a small bowl (like a Pyrex custard cup) and a bigger one, which might be the mixer bowl in which you've already beaten your butter and sugar. Crack the eggs one at a time on the countertop (a flat surface makes it less likely that you'll get bits of shell into the egg because it doesn't make such little bits); put each one into the small bowl; inspect it for bits of shell (it's much easier to get shell bits out of one egg than out of four, or out of a bowl that already has other ingredients in it). Use a large piece of shell to reach into the egg and scoop out tiny fragments; chasing them around the slimy white with your fingertips might keep you entertained for hours, but didn't you come to cook? If you are keeping kosher, this is where you look for red spots and throw out the egg if it has them; if not, and you've gotten all the egg-shell bits out, toss the approved egg into your big bowl. That was easy.

Now let's talk about separating your eggs, and beating the egg whites. More bowls (hooray for over-achievers!) are needed; two little clean ones, two bigger ones. Make sure that the bowl in which you are going to be whipping the egg whites is spotlessly clean; if it's been sitting around and is a bit dusty, wash and dry it with a fresh dishtowel. Do the same to the beater or whisk you'll be using. You can thank me later. Now: to separate the eggs.

You can use a commercially-available egg separator -- it looks like a spoon with a semi-circular slot in it, which holds the yolk in the middle and lets the white drip out the hole. You can slip the yolk carefully back and forth from one half of the egg shell to the other, being very careful not to break the yolk, letting the white ooze into its clean little bowl (takes practice, but impresses your audience). Or you can use the egg separator at the end of each arm; crack the eggs into the palm of your (CLEAN) hand and let the white drip slimily through your loosely-cupped fingers while you cradle the yolk. Yes, it feels gross, but why dirty EVERY kitchen utensil? And won't you feel like you had a Close Encounter with your baking if you do it that way?

Crack them carefully (remember, on the countertop, not the edge of the bowl); and separate the first egg. Make sure that there is no yolk in the white; now put the yolk in the bigger bowl which is its destiny, and the white into your sparkling clean egg-white-whipping bowl. Repeat the process. Having the small bowls insures that a later broken yolk doesn't contaminate the whole batch of eggs; don't think it doesn't happen that you've successfully separated 5 eggs and then #6 ruins the bowlful and you have to make scrambled eggs for dinner and start all over again with the separating. See, you should have listened to me.

I have, on occasion, managed to scoop/spoon/wipe out a tiny bit of egg yolk that had sneaked into my otherwise pristine whites, and still managed to whip up the whites successfully, but I think the percentage of yolk to white that can give you that sort of result is a proportion best expressed by homeopaths. In other words, don't count on it. And don't say I didn't tell you so when you try it and it fails. Baking is a science, and you may be able to fudge the results occasionally -- but you won't get a Nobel Prize that way. (I'm lobbying for the creation of a Nobel Prize in Confectionery, but the odds are long.)

When you are adding eggs to a cake mixture, add one egg, beat well, stop the mixer and scrape it well, and then beat a bit more before adding the next egg and beating/scraping/beating again. This will give you the best incorporation of eggs into your butter/sugar mixture. You really can't over-beat at this point. After you add the flour, though, beat just until all the ingredients are incorporated. Then stop, scrape the bowl, beat BRIEFLY, and you are done.
We like the new beaters (available for most Kitchenaid mixers) with a flexible rubber edge; they do an amazing job of scraping the bowl while beating, and reduce the amount of time needed for successful beating.

Questions? Please e-mail or call us and we'll be happy to help!