28 July 2012

Failure Number 2: Whipping Egg Whites

My first significant cooking challenge was baking with yeast. I've overcome that, and now I can make croissants. Now, my priority is successfully whipping egg whites.

I suppose one cause of failure for whipping egg whites is that I don't have a whisk. A few years ago, I tried to make microwavable meringues with one egg white, and I whipped it with a fork. I don't think there ever were soft or stiff peaks, but, growing desperate, I added sugar, baking soda, and vanilla. Then, I microwaved it...and ended up with silver-dollar pancakes that tasted bitter, due to the baking soda. Urg. That bitter metallicky taste and spongy texture is unforgettable.

Yesterday, I decided to whip egg whites again, to make macarons (despite the fact that I've never had macarons before...so I don't know how they're supposed to taste)! I even made the chocolate maple ganache, way in advance! This time, I had an electronic egg beater thing (left by the people who lived in this apartment before me). Well, I ran into some small problems:

  • I wanted to measure everything by weight, but all I have is a "3/4" sized cup
  • My almond meal particles were possibly too big (not that it mattered in the end)
  • Sifting took way too long! I also spilled a lot of powdery stuff because the bowls here are too small
  • Whipping the egg whites. Oh. The disaster.
I used 3 egg whites that had been sitting at room temperature for about 20 hours. I put them into a glass bowl. I started to whisk them with the egg beater. It was LOUD, and I feared that my glass bowl was going to break, and I thought that the egg beater was going to fall apart. Pages 252-3 of the book-lacking-citations, Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter, explain that it's best not to use a plastic bowl for whisking egg whites, so I guess I'll just use a metal one in the future (to alleviate fears that the glass bowl will break). This is because apparently, when you whisk egg whites, the hydrophobic parts of the egg white proteins are denatured and are forced into contact with the air. As this happens a lot, little bits of air become smothered by bits of denatured protein, and are trapped to form a foam. Unfortunately, plastics are sort of "oily", as are egg yolks and oils, so when whipping in the presence of these, the hydrophobic parts of the egg white protein will just bind to them instead of being exposed to the air. However, I'm still confused as to why the hydrophobic parts of the protein are attracted to, or at least, willing to maintain their relationship to air in the first place - or why the foam doesn't just collapse (unless there is intramolecular binding of the hydrophobic portions, and the air bubbles are smaller than what I'm imagining?).

Well, either way, my egg whisking looked beautiful...on the surface. When I started adding the powdered sugar/almond/cocoa powder mix, I noticed that the bottom half of the bowl had been completely neglected! There was transparent egg white! So, I re-whisked everything, but gave up right before the egg whites reached the soft-peak stage. I wasn't sure whether my egg white mixture was even capable of going beyond that, but I suppose I should've just kept whisking. So, there was a source of error: under-whipping the egg whites.

After folding everything together, I ended up with a delicious concoction with the consistency of waffle batter. I then realized that I ACTUALLY REQUIRED PARCHMENT PAPER, because oiling the pan would cause the foam to break down! Well, I didn't have parchment paper, so I just angrily oiled the pan, poured my batter into a resealable bag, cut off the corner, and piped the mixture onto the pan.

The mixture spread tremendously, and after baking, I was the proud owner of a delicious disaster half stuck to the baking pan...

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