What is the purpose of eggs in baking? Well, that's not necessarily a quick answer, because the incredible, edible egg has a multitude of uses when it comes to creating perfect cakes, puddings, custards, cookies and pies.
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To bake a perfect cake (or cookie, for that matter), chances are you're going to need some eggs. So let's get cracking on an exploration of some of the key roles eggs play in baking.
What kinds of eggs are used in baking?
Unless otherwise noted, assume the recipe is calling for chicken eggs. And unless otherwise noted, use large eggs, at room temperature. As for the color? Doesn't matter too much. While different types of chickens will lay eggs in different color, this has no direct impact on the flavor or nutrition, whether eaten alone or used as a baking ingredient.
Whites vs. yolks
Egg whites and yolks can have different purposes, but they can also work together as a team. Egg whites can be used as a leavener, as a base for confections such as marshmallows, and as a component in types of icing. They are also the key ingredient in meringues, such as the beautiful topping on a classic lemon meringue pie. Certain lighter baked goods will only call for egg whites.
Egg yolks can be used to add flavor and color to baked goods, as well as act as a thickening agent in both baked goods and custard–type treats. Certain denser baked goods will only call for egg yolks.
Together, egg whites and yolks are a baking tour de force. Here are some of the other roles they can perform:
You know how an egg becomes firm as you heat it, whether by boiling or frying? Well, that same reaction occurs in the baking process. Eggs mixed in your batter or dough will help set the structure of cakes, cookies, custards and some ice creams and cheesecakes.
Think baking soda and baking powder are the only ways to give your baked goods a lift? Think again. Whipped egg whites are also a leavener. Egg whites trap air bubbles in the batter, so when whisked, egg whites are folded into a batter, they hold the air in and help the baked good in question attain a light, puffy rise. Combined with the flavor and structure provided by the yolks, this will ensure a flavorful baked good with a superior texture.
Because of the fat content in egg yolks, they add a richness to the flavor of baked goods. Just try to think of how a decadent key lime pie would taste without eggs in the curd!
Lightly beaten eggs, either whole or separated, plain or combined with water or milk, can be used as an "egg wash," brushed on the surface of breads, pie crusts, cookies, pretzels or biscuits, and will help them attain a lovely shine when baked.
Whether you are baking a chocolate cake from scratch or the perfect pie crust, knowing how eggs are playing a part in the process can inform your baking just that much more. Here are a few further facts about eggs:
Did you know?
Although most people will discard or compost them, eggshells are actually edible. Sometimes they are blended into nutritional supplements or shakes (it's true). They are also sometimes added to chicken feed.
What about egg substitutes?
If you can't or choose not to eat eggs, hope is not lost when it comes to baking delicious treats. Egg replacers are available and specify how much of the liquid to use per egg replaced on the carton. Depending on the recipe, applesauce, bananas, or even tofu can be substituted for eggs as well.
Raw egg concerns
It's true: egg yolks have been associated with salmonella in the past. If you have a recipe such as French silk pie or eggnog that calls for raw eggs and makes you nervous, you can pasteurize the eggs to kill potential bacteria.
Pasteurizing is a method of briefly raising the temperature to kill bacteria, and then cooling it again. Putting the eggs in a saucepan full of water, and then raising the temperature to about 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for 2–3 minutes will kill bacteria but will not be hot enough to scramble your eggs. Once cooled, you can employ the eggs as usual.
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