Anyone can whip egg whites to voluminous stiff peaks in a stand mixer, but have you ever wished you had the finesse to do it by hand? Such a skill is particularly handy when you only have a couple of eggs to whip; it also allows you to keep a closer eye on your progress so you can stop whipping at just the right time.
But what’s the best way to go about it? Cooks tend to favor one of three different motions when using a whisk: circular stirring, a side-to-side motion, or the looping action of beating that takes the whisk up and out of the bowl.
3 Different Ways to Whisk
Which Way is Best?
I decided to put all three approaches to the test to see which was the most efficient. I began by pulling out my balloon whisk, whose bulbous head would incorporate air more readily than a slender French whisk, which is a better bet for sauces. I separated whites into each of three bowls and timed how long it took me to whisk them to sturdy peaks.
Stirring the eggs in a circle proved close to useless, taking me a full 12 minutes to create a stiff foam. Side-to-side whisking was far more effective, requiring just 5 minutes of whisking. However, beating with a looping motion proved the speediest, producing tall, pillowy mounds in only 4 minutes.
Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter
The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.
Why a Looping Motion is Best for Eggs
Why the difference? Because egg whites are very viscous, they cling to the tines of a whisk or beater, even at the beginning of whipping. This allows the whisk to create channels that trap air. With side-to-side strokes, the back-and-forth motion will disrupt some of the channels that were just created, slowing the process of trapping air and building volume. Since a looping motion, where you move your wrist in a clockwise direction, takes the whisk out of the liquid during some of its action, these larger channels can stay open longer, trapping more air. (Note: If you’re whipping cream or emulsifying vinaigrette, side-to-side whisking is actually the way to go, due to phenomenon called “shear force.” For more information, see the other tests I conducted on whisking.)
So the next time you need to whip a few eggs to glossy peaks, don’t bother with your stand mixer. With your whisk, a bowl, and the right motion, you can transform them into tall, proud peaks in no time.
If you want to learn more, check out this video: