If you like to make sponge cake, mousse, meringues, etc., you already know the importance of properly whipped egg whites. Properly whipped egg whites, however, are an essential part of all pastry making and every serious cook should know all the "little secrets." Many, however, do not. I've had numerous questions from readers and friends who tell me they simply can't whip egg whites to perfection each and every time they set out to do so. Well, I think they could, if only they'd consider the importance of a few crucial elements.
Separate the eggs very, very carefully. When we're cooking and baking, we usually don't need to be too precise about separating eggs. As long as most of the yolk is separated from the white, things will be okay. However, if whipping egg whites is our objective, even one dot of yolk will ruin the whole affair. If there's one speck of yolk in the whites, the whites will certainly fail to peak properly.
Use the proper bowl. When egg whites are whipped, chemical reactions occur inside the bowl. It is absolutely essential that either a stainless steel or copper bowl be used. Copper bowls have long been considered to give the very best results and even chefs who generally keep a "stainless steel kitchen" will have at least one copper bowl - for use in whipping egg whites. Never use plastic, aluminum, or glass. These types of bowls will greatly reduce the volume and alter the color of the eggs in an undesirable manner.
Always use a whisk. Many people like the convenience of an electric mixer and an electric mixer can be used to whip egg whites successfully. However, the use of an electric mixer can lead to overmixing and overmixing will ruin the peaks. It's always best to use a whisk. Using a whisk will give your whipped egg whites the very best results and the very best results should be what you're striving for.
Add cream of tartar. You only need a pinch, but that pinch can make all the difference. It can help your whipped egg whites to stiffen and hold their peak. Sugar - plain granulated sugar - can also be used, but sugar will reduce the overall volume.
Whip the whites at room temperature. We're food safety advocates. That's why we usually don't advocate leaving eggs out of the refrigerator. When it comes to whipping egg whites, however, we do do make an exception. Egg whites whipped at room temperature means they'll peak much more successfully.
Now that you know the "secrets" of perfectly whipped egg whites, get in the kitchen and show your friends and family that mile high meringue on your world famous lemon pie!