It seems like one of the more stress-inducing baking techniques is beating egg whites. True, it takes a little finesse to find your sense of timing, mixer speed and appearance but with practice (and these tips) you’ll find success comes quickly:
1. Eggs should always be separated while cold, and beaten at room temperature. So get those eggs separated right away (you can do this the night before and keep the whites – and yolks, if using – in covered bowls in the refrigerator. Take them out in the morning to allow them to warm up).
2. The most important factor in beating egg whites is patience – you want to develop a strong and sturdy base so that the whites don’t deflate when you add your sugar or other ingredients. You’ve achieved this when the surface of the bowl is covered completely in tiny, uniform bubbles – it should look almost solid.
3. Using your whisk attachment, start out on low or low-medium speed. You’ll soon start to see those tiny bubbles forming around the outer edges. Do not be tempted to increase the speed to move things along – you’ll just get bigger bubbles that are less stable. Keep watching and eventually you’ll notice that the “hole” in the center has disappeared and the entire surface is uniform. You can then start to increase your speed.
4. If you’re adding other ingredients – typically sugar and/or cream of tartar, salt, an extract or lemon juice – do so at this point and do it gradually. You want to maintain that nice strong base you’ve created. Once the other ingredients are incorporated you can then increase the speed again – to medium-high/high.
5. When you start to see “tracks” form you can safely bump up the speed to high and continue according to your recipe. The chance for overbeating is now greatly reduced, as your whites are strong and sturdy. This will be evident in how nice and high your cake rises too.
6. After the whites are beaten you may have to add another ingredient (like flour or cocoa powder). Do not be tempted to add it all at once. Using a wire whisk or rubber spatula, gently but swiftly fold in, one third at a time, till fully incorporated.