Why won’t my egg whites stiffen? No.8 is an old wives trick.

10 reasons on why won’t my egg whites stiffen before you turn to salvaging your overbeaten egg whites. No.8 is an old wives trick that is useful for meringue.

Beaten egg whites are an integral part of some of our favorite desserts or even parts of it such as pavlova, meringue, souffle, frosting and icing. 

Table of Contents

1. The Type of Bowl

If you plan on whipping egg whites on a regular basis, consider investing in a copper bowl. Copper reacts with egg protein to form a stronger bond, creating a lighter and luscious whip. They do cost pretty penny so the next best thing would be to use a metal, silver glass or ceramic bowl.

Plastic bottles are not suitable because traces of oil, grease or fat can still linger or get into the fine knicks or gaps on the plastic’s surface even though it appears to be clean. This can interfere with the whipping process. This especially rings true if you’re trying to make meringue.

2. Clean Bowl and Utensils

Start with a perfectly clean bowl. Even residue from dishwashing liquid will stop your egg whites from forming. So make sure your bowls and utensils such as your whisk and beaters are clean and dry before you begin. Even a bit of shell or a bit of yolk spoils the process to stiffen egg whites.

Make sure that the bowl is not exposed to other forms of fat or grease residue. Just a bit of butter or some traces of the yolk that have accidentally gotten in will hinder the whipping process. Yolk and other fats can get in the way by stopping the protein strands from bonding. Thus preventing air bubbles from forming.

Wipe for the bowl down with the dry cloth or paper towel to soak up any trace of oil, grease or fat. Egg yolks are high in fat so they fall under that category too. Going through this step saves you eggs and a lot of time.

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3. Bowl Size

You’ll need a small to medium sized bowl for up to 3 egg whites. Any more than that, upgrade to a large mixer bowl.

Beaten egg whites can increase in volume and you need a good size bowl to accommodate that.

The bowl should not be too wide either otherwise the egg whites are spread too thin whereby allowing too much air bubbles to escape.

The bowl should be properly sized in width and depth for the mixer or wire whisk to be in constant contact with the egg whites during the whipping process.

4. Using A Separate Bowl

how to separate egg whites
How to separate egg whites

Crack the eggs in a separate bowl instead of the actual mixing bowl that you are about to use for whipping. This ensures not the slightest trace of yolk accidentally drips onto the accumulation of egg whites already present in the mixing bowl.

5. Using the Right Utensil or Mixer Attachment

If you have the patience, the arm strength and serious elbow grease, a wire whisk will be suitable to stiffen egg whites into desired peaks.

Use a whisk with many thin wires or a balloon whisk as they work better than the standard beater. The thin wires are more capable of incorporating more air into the foam, building it up from soft to stiff peaks more efficiently.

A hand or stand mixer will get the job done too by doing it in less time and producing a more uniformed structure. Be sure you’re using the wire or balloon whisk attachment.

6. Temperature of Egg Whites

Egg whites that are too cold or straight out of the refrigerator will be difficult to whip. However, it is easier to separate the yolk from the egg whites if the eggs are cold. Therefore, for desired results separate them when they’re still cold then leave the whites to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before whipping.

If you are like me who tend to keep eggs refrigerated and don’t have the time to wait for 30 minutes, then leave them in a glass or ceramic bowl have them sit in hot water for a few minutes. Put a timer on, if you must because depending on how hot the water is, you wouldn’t want to overdo it. This will also warm the egg whites fast with little worry of bacterial contamination.

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According to craftybaking.com, if you are going to use a standing mixer, it is no longer essential to start with room temperature egg whites. The machine generates enough speed to create heat and friction to warm the egg whites up to the ideal temperature for whipping.

7. Size and Amount of Eggs

In order to produce even a small amount of stiffen egg whites, you will need a minimum of 3 large eggs. Always use large eggs (at least 60g each) so you have enough liquid and protein to whip up a decent amount of egg white foam.

8. Age of the Eggs and Egg Whites

When eggs age, their egg whites get more runny and lose their elasticity, thus affecting their capability of being whipped up. According to incredible Incredibleegg.com, refrigerated eggs can last up to 4-5 weeks past their pack date or about 3 weeks after purchase.

If they are left on the kitchen bench top, expect them to expire earlier. Always trust your senses. Get the freshest eggs you can find if you are going to use them for whipping.

Having said that, separated egg whites from fresh eggs that are left to age can supposedly help to stiffen egg whites. According to Matt Preston, there’s even an old wives’ tale that has suggested that leaving your egg whites out for at least a day to reduce further moisture through evaporation will make them tighter and more stable for making meringue. If you plan to try this, just be sure to leave it somewhere that no foreign object of any kind could make its way into your bowl of egg whites.

9. Whipping or Beating Speed

Another factor to consider is the speed of your whipping. Start off with medium speed on your electric hand mixer until you reach soft peak stage which should take about 3 minutes. If you are doing it by hand with a whisk expect it to take up to 5 mins.

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Once your beaten egg whites have achieved soft peaks, turn up your hand mixer to high speed while adding in sugar little by little at a time. You should get stiffen egg whites in 4-5 minutes. If you need it to be savory then skip the sugar.

10. Additives

Adding a bit of cream of tartar, a type of acidic powder in the beginning of your whipping to save it from turning lumpy and runny that are the results of overbeaten egg whites. Cream of tartar has no flavor so it will not affect your end product.

Once you have achieved soft peaks, add in a little superfine sugar, bit by bit while continuing to whip up the egg whites. This can help the sugar to dissolve quickly and stabilise the beaten egg whites as it traps the air in the whipped egg whites as well as giving that glossiness and shine from caramelisation once it is baked.

As a guide, you can try 1/8 teaspoon per egg white or one teaspoon per 1 cup of egg whites.

When making meringue, use 1/8 teaspoon for every two egg whites. You can easily substitute cream of tartar for vinegar or lemon, using the same amount.

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