When whipping egg whites into a foamy meringue, the usual approach is to start slow and build up speed for better volume. But does volume always matter?
We made meringue cookies, meringue frosting, chocolate mousse, and chiffon cakes, each with two different batches of whipped egg whites. In one batch, we whipped the whites slowly until foamy, about one minute, and finished on high. In another, we beat the whites at high speed the entire time.
The egg whites with the slow start produced a meringue that was about 10 percent more voluminous than the high-speed-only whites, resulting in meringue cookies and frosting that were lighter and airier (the cookies were also larger). Both batches of mousse and chiffon cake, on the other hand, were indistinguishable from one another.
Beating egg whites slowly at the beginning causes their proteins to loosen up. Like stretching a balloon before trying to inflate it, the improved elasticity allows the proteins to take on air more easily and eventually gain more volume. This extra volume makes a difference when meringue is the main element in a recipe, such as in meringue cookies or frosting. But when meringue is just a minor player that gets folded into a heavier batter or mousse, you can save time by whipping full speed ahead—tasters won’t notice the difference.