Balloon, ball, spiral, cage, coil. No, we're not playing "I spy" at a circus show. We're talking about different types of whisks: these are just a few of the many types that live in kitchens, nestled between wooden spoons and spatulas, around the world, contributing to cooking, baking and cake decorating efforts.
Who knew that there were so many types of whisks?
Photo via CakeSpy
As a cooking and baking technique, whisking is not a new concept.
In fact, as revealed in the cookbook The Best of Shaker Cooking, a recipe from the Shaker community estimated to have been written in the 18th century calls for whisking, asking the baker to "cut a handful of peach twigs, which are filled with sap at the season of the year. Clip the ends and bruise them and beat cake batter with them. This will impart a delicate peach flavor to the cake."
Other early recipes call for mixing ingredients by hand--a sort of no-frills form of whisking.
Illustration via CakeSpy
We've come a long way in terms of whisking. Today, a wire whisk is considered a common kitchen tool. But this is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. The wire whisk first began to be produced in the 19th century, but it was a celebrity endorsement of sorts that brought this tool to the mainstream.
Yep, it's true. Julia Child is credited with bringing the whisk to the American masses. She featured a whisk during the pilot of her show, using it to whisk eggs for an omelet.
In a New York Times article, famed chef Alice Waters notes that “Before Julia, we used that little egg beater — the one that you wind up — or a fork to beat egg whites,” Alice Waters told me via e-mail. “My family never had a whisk.”
By the way, Julia Child called her tool a "whip", but through the years the term for the tool has shifted to "whisk", though the terms are interchangeable.
So which whisk should you choose?
Depends on what you're making. Here's an exploration of the many types of whisks out there today, including an exploration of the baking and cooking projects best suited to each one.
Photo via CakeSpy
A note on materials
While wire is the most popular material for a whisk, it's not the only type out there. You may see wooden or plastic whisks in a number of the different styles featured below. Here's a brief explanation of both materials.
Made from firm but flexible pieces of wood (usually birch), these whisks are generally used for light whipping, primarily for baking.
Silicone coated whisks:
These are wire whisks, but the wires are coated with heatproof silicone. They are a great choice for non-stick pans, as they will not scratch the protective coating, and their non-stick surface can make cleanup easier.
Now, on to the different types of whisks.
Photo via OXO
This is one of the most popular types of whisks. The "balloon" is made from a series of flexible wires (usually eight or more) which join at an end which is attached to a handle. Balloon whisks come in a number of sizes, from teeny tiny to almost cartoonishly large.
Suggested uses: The uses for a balloon whisk are many, and include but are not limited to mixing eggs, vigorously whisking air into egg whites or cream to create meringues or whipped cream, lightly mixing together dry ingredients in lieu of sifting.
Photo via Baytree Cookware
This is the other most famous whisk in the world of kitchen supplies. Like its balloon whisk brother, the French whisk is composed of a series of overlapping flexible wires which join together at a handle. Its shape is different than a balloon whisk, however: it is longer and narrower.
Suggested uses: Like the balloon whisk, this is an all-purpose tool. Whisks with more flexible wires are best suited to liquids, whereas more sturdy wires are better suited to thicker sauces or custard type mixtures. Its narrow profile allows this whisk to better scrape the edges of pans, so it is a favored tool for mixing sauces or ingredients which are being combined in a deep pan.
Photo via Bed, Bath & Beyond
Also commonly called a roux whisk. Visually, it looks like a balloon or French whisk that has been flattened--it has the signature loops that you'd expect in a whisk, but fewer, and they lie flat. This orientation makes it uniquely suited to stirring in shallow pans such skillets.
Suggested uses: Owing to its harmonious nature with skillets, this whisk is a great choice for making a roux or various pan sauces.
Photo via Fiskars.fr
This unique-looking whisk consists of a rounded loop, around which another wire is coiled around. The head is slightly angled. Since the head bends to fit the space it is inserted into, this type of coil whisk will constantly make contact with the pan or bowl, which helps to ensure even mixing while preventing scorching.
Photo via Amazon
There are no loops on this unique whisk, which looks more like a retro lighting fixture than a kitchen tool. Instead, it consists of a series of individual wires which starburst out from a handle and each have a ball bearing on the end. The lack of loops makes it easier to clean, and proponents of this type of whisk claim it allows for quicker and better aeration of the substance being whisked.
Suggested uses: The speed with which the ball whisk aerates makes it a favored choice for whipping egg whites, making for perfect meringues.
Photo via Peter's of Kensington
This type of whisk is characterized by its one single wire which spirals into a round shape. The overall shape is like that of a balloon whisk, but it is one single wire rather than a series of wires looping. Unlike other whisks, which are stirred around the bowl to aerate liquids, this type remains stationary in the bowl, and is pumped up and down. Not to confuse things, but sometimes this is also called a spiral whisk, too.
Suggested uses: Incorporating liquid ingredients, especially in a deep vessel; great for lifting sauces or thick mixtures from the bottom of a pan.
Photo via Bed, Bath & Beyond
This unusual whisk looks like a balloon whisk which has been stuffed with a small ball-shaped wire "cage" consisting of more looped wires. Inside of the cage is a ball bearing for weight. The added muscle of that inner "cage" allows for thorough blending of thick mixtures, ensuring a smooth, silky texture.
Suggested uses: This whisk is especially popular for whipping cream, and with good reason: whipped cream was never so luxuriant as when whipped with a cage whisk.
Photo via Alliance Online
There is also a whisk attachment for stand mixers. This attachment most closely resembles a balloon whisk in its shape, and can be attached to the head of a stand mixer and then used for any of the purposes called for with whisking.
Suggested uses: The attachment is especially helpful when vigorous whisking is required, such as whipping egg whites for meringues or heavy cream for whipped cream. Not suggested for batter or dough, as they can warp the wires.
Come back to the Craftsy blog tomorrow for a fun Halloween cupcake tutorial!