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Knowing your terminologies can be crucial in determining the success of your baked goods. If the recipe tells you to “whip to stiff peaks”, and you have only whipped your egg whites or cream to soft peaks, it is likely that your resultant cakes or frosting will turn out flatter and denser as inadequate air has been incorporated.
In this article, we will provide you with an explainer and visual guide which will help you differentiate between soft, medium, firm, and stiff peaks, so that you don’t end up over or under-beating your egg whites or cream in your next bake! This will also be really helpful if you’re making meringues.
The process of whipping helps to incorporate air into the mix, and it is done using a whisk or a mixer with the whisk attachment. During the process, air cells are created and introduced into the mixture, lightening, volumising and aerating it. The final whipped mixture (usually egg whites or cream) can then be folded into cake batters and/or creams for leavening or lightening purposes.
After whipping your cream or egg whites for a certain period of time, you’ll see ridges on your beaters/whisk, or on the surface of your mixture when you lift your whisk up. The key to differentiating between soft, medium/firm and stiff peaks lies in observing the shape and structure of the peaks! This applies to both whipped cream and egg whites.
During the first few minutes of whipping, your egg whites or cream will still be liquidy with little to no increase in volume. The cream/whites will glide off your beaters when you lift it up – basically, status quo. This is your cue to continue beating!
As you whip your mixture, you’ll start to see your mixture volumising. Your egg whites will start to turn foamy, airy, and opaque. Cream will start to thicken, become smooth, and leave trails in the mixture.
To test: When you lift up your beaters/whisk, the peaks are soft, and will curl downwards and melt back into themselves almost immediately.
At this stage, you’ll find that your mixture is firmer, glossier, and with a better structure and form than before.
To test: When you lift up your beaters, peaks will form, but curl down slightly at the ends.
At this stage, your mixture will be smooth and glossy, and the peaks/tips will stand straight up and hold their shape. Use your mixture immediately as it will deflate over time.
To test: One way to test if your egg whites are ready would be turn the bowl over, if nothing drops/ slides over, you’re good to go!
Be very careful especially when whipping small amounts of egg whites or cream for they can become over-whipped very quickly!
Over-whipped cream will become grainy and curdled due to the separation of fats and liquids. Once this has happened, there is no turning back. You can only continue whipping it to create butter, or start with a fresh batch of cream.
As for egg whites, once they’ve been over-beaten, they’ll start to break down, collapse and become grainy and watery. Another tell-tale sign is when your mixture becomes dry and clumpy, instead of smooth and silky. You can try saving it by adding another fresh egg white (free of egg yolks or grease) to the mixture and whisking it in until it is incorporated.
Folding whipped egg whites into cake batters is what gives baked goods such as Chiffon cakes and sponge rolls their light and fluffy textures. Mastering this skill will go a long way in helping you achieve those tall, airy, and light baked treats you’ve always yearned for!
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