- Baking Fundamentals Lesson #10: All About Eggs and Their Function in Baking
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All About Eggs in Baking Lesson Overview:
In today’s lesson we are reviewing the function of eggs in baking! Eggs are absolutely essential in traditional baking and they play many different roles. Eggs are utilized in baking in three different forms: whole eggs, just eggs whites, and just egg yolks. Each form has different functions so let’s dive in!
Watch the Video Lesson
The eggs most commonly used in baking are chicken eggs and that is what we are talking about here today. Eggs are such an important part of the baking process that its important to understand what exactly we’re dealing with.
An egg is made up of two main parts: the egg white and the yolk. The egg white is mostly made up of water and proteins while egg yolks is very fatty and nutrient dense. Eggs also contain a thin white strand called the chalaza. The chalaza works to center the egg yolk and for almost all baking purposes is fine to leave in the egg, though some bakers prefer to remove it when making things like custard.
Large eggs are by far the most common used for baking. Eggs are labeled by size according to their weight and therefore all large eggs contain a fairly similar amount of yolk and white and small differences won’t matter for everyday baking. Sometimes, recipes do list egg amounts by weight and when this happens this is a fairly good indication that precise measurements of the egg are very necessary for the recipe.
If using farm fresh eggs, the sizes can vary greatly in a carton. If you are making a recipe that only calls for 1 or 2 eggs, likely the size isn’t going to matter a great deal. Substituting 1 medium egg for 1 large egg is likely going to work out just fine. However, this can become incrementally more crucial as you make large batches of things. Substituting 10 large eggs is not quite as direct as substituting 1. Below is a chart of common egg sizes for your reference as well as a chart for how to substitute for large batches.[table id=21 /]
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White vs Brown Eggs
The only difference between brown eggs and white eggs is the breed of chicken they come from. There is no difference nutritionally between a brown egg and a white egg.
Brown eggs have long been associated with the eggs from chickens that are raised more naturally (organic & free range) and therefore must be better eggs, however white eggs can just as easily come from chickens that are also raised this way.
Functions of Eggs in Baking
Role of the Whole Egg
The whole egg is made up of a great deal of water as well as protein and fat. These three components work together to perform quite a few different functions in baking.
- Whole eggs work to bind baked goods together because of the protein content and how it gels as the egg heats up. This adds structure and strength to baked goods.
- Because whole eggs contain so much water content they also help with the leavening. You’ll remember from the last lesson about how leavening works in baking that steam is a powerful source of leavening. As the water evaporates off of the eggs it helps to lighten and leaven our baked goods.
- Whole eggs also add flavor, color, and richness to our baked goods. The higher the ratio of egg in a recipe the more yellow in color and the more “eggy” it will taste.
- Whole eggs also add tenderness and moisture to baked goods.
Role of Egg White
The egg white, also known as the albumin is about 2/3 the total volume of the egg and is made up of mostly water and some protein. Because of this makeup, egg whites perform play very different roles in baking than egg yolks which are filled with fat.
- Egg whites can be whipped to create an egg white foam. This foam is filled with tons of air which helps to lighten and leaven baked goods. If you made the angel food cake from the sugar lesson then you definitely saw this in action. Egg white foams leaven everything from cakes to souffles and can be used as a stand alone as meringue.
- Egg whites are very neutral in flavor so they really do not contribute to the flavor of your baked good like the yolks do.
- Because egg whites contain a great deal of water and no fat they tend to have a drying effect on baked goods. However, the can be used in conjunction with a high ratio of sugar, like in the angel food cake, to keep baked goods moist.
Role of Egg Yolk
An egg yolk makes up the other 1/3 of the egg and contains a high percentage of fat as well as protein and water. When recipes call for yolks only it is typically because the fat content as well as the yolks ability to emulsify is desired. It is also important to note that yolks prevent egg whites from whipping into a foam which is why they need to be carefully separated when a recipe calls for it.
- Egg yolks add richness to baked goods due to the fat content.
- Egg yolks are great emulsifiers meaning they work to combine liquid and fats into one cohesive mixture. This is evident in baking mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce, but in baking it creates a smoother and more homogeneous batter or dough.
- Egg yolks add flavor and color to baked goods.
- Egg yolks also thicken mixtures when they are heated because the proteins begin to denature and gel . You can see this very clearly in custards like pastry cream. When the mixture begins to heat up it thickens greatly.
Using Eggs in Baking
Temperature of Eggs
The general rule of thumb in baking is to use eggs at room temperature. There are very few instances where a cold egg is desirable in baking and eggs absorb into batters more readily at room temperature.
This matters more in some recipes than it does in others. Typically if you throw cold eggs into something very forgiving like a cookie dough or a muffin batter you are going to be just fine. But in some recipes, like pound cake, where most of the leavening happens by the creamed butter and sugar, it is more crucial to have room temperature eggs because cold eggs can break the butter/sugar emulsion you created. Egg whites also gain the most amount of volume when making an egg white foam if they are around 70 degrees F.
How to Bring an Egg to Room Temperature Quickly
The best way to bring an egg to room temperature is to let it sit on the counter for at least 30 minutes before starting your recipe. However, if you are in a pinch you can put the eggs in a bowl of warm, not hot, water for about 5 minutes.
Cracking an Egg
The best way to crack an egg is on a flat surface instead of on the edge of a bowl. This will prevent shards of egg shell from going into the egg. I also always suggest cracking eggs into a bowl instead of right into a batter or dough. This can be done as part of your mise en place. This way you don’t risk getting shells in your final product.
Separating an Egg
The best way to separate an egg is with clean hands. If I am making a recipe that calls for separated eggs, I do this with 3 bowls. 1 bowl for cracking, 1 bowl for whites, and one bowl for yolks.
Crack the egg into one bowl, then pick it up with clean hands and let the white fall off of the yolk. Put the yolk in 1 bowl and the white in another bowl. The reason for this is you don’t want to separate whites from one egg over a bowl of whites that have already been separated in case the yolk breaks. If the yolk gets into your bowl of whites then you will have to start over because the whites will not whip up with yolks present.
Homework for this Lesson
Now that you have and understanding of how eggs work in baking it is time for your homework assignment! For this lesson, I want you to try your hand at making a chiffon cake!
The reason I chose this for this lesson is because you are going to be using the whole egg, but the white and yolk are separated out during the mixing process. The whites are going to get whipped into a meringue and will be folded into the cake batter that also contains the yolks. So a chiffon cake gets the best of both worlds. The yolk adds richness and flavor to the cake and the whites help lighten and leaven it.
You can either make a traditional chiffon cake, baked in a tube pan, or you can make my favorite yellow cake recipe (that uses the chiffon cake mixing method) which can be baked as a 2 layer 9″ round cake or a 9×13″ sheet cake!
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