Egg Whites: To Whip or Not?
Many waffle recipes require you to separate the egg whites and whip them to peaks, before folding them into the batter. It’s a step that seems like a hassle to most people. In fact, the majority of folks probably think it’s also pointless, especially when you’re also using yeast or baking soda/powder to leaven the waffle.
So is it crucial to whip egg whites? Well, before I answer that question, let’s first address why whipped egg whites found their way into waffles recipes, in the first place…
Back in the day — before the late 19th century — baking soda/powder weren’t available to bakers. That left two options for leavening any batter: yeast or whipped egg whites. Going the yeast route, you had to pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood ale brewer and ask him for some “barm” (live yeast scum from his brewing); baker’s yeast didn’t yet exist. If you didn’t have a brewer in town — or couldn’t make your own barm — you were swiftly down to your only other option. So you’d crack your eggs and whip your whites. Not surprisingly, this wasn’t terribly common in recipes; I have no doubt many people found it to be as much of a hassle as it seems today. No ones wants more dishes. So virtually all the old recipes use yeast, with some notable exceptions.
With the invention of the Brussels waffle, the forerunner to our American-style “Belgian” waffle, in the early 1840s, egg whites gained some traction. It’s in Cauderlier’s 1874 Brussels waffle recipe (the first we know of for Brussels waffles) that he uses 500g of flour, 250g butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 5g salt, 4 egg yolks, and 4 egg whites beaten en neige. There’s no yeast, and there is no chemical leavening. He got over a kilo of batter fluffy with just 4 egg whites, and they cooked up beautifully in deeply-gridded Brussels irons.
Fast-forward to today, and you’ll see that egg whites are no longer used as the primary leavening but as the “secret weapon” to getting a light/crispy waffle. As I covered in another post, lightness and crispiness wouldn’t really be a problem for anyone, if only they used warm liquid ingredients. Simply using yeast or baking soda/powder, you will get a perfectly light and crispy waffle.
Given how well yeast and baking soda/powder work, egg whites aren’t necessary, per se, in most recipes. However, they do make a significantly lighter waffle, if extra lightness is an aim in-and-of itself or if the recipe uses particularly fibrous or protein-laden ingredients. I’ve done the experiment a number of times with my Cream Waffle recipe. In one instance, I merely give a light beating to my whites. In another, I whip to peaks and fold. The difference? A final baked weight of around 153g for regular whites and 133g for ones whipped and folded.
Using whipped whites gives the batter more volume and more incorporated air for the in-iron expansion. With all other factors the same — and with the same amount of batter poured into the iron — the whipped-white batter is going to puff bigger and faster (and eject more material from the seams of the iron). Provided you follow any of the recipes on the site here, you’re good no matter how you handle your whites. But for anyone who’s into an ultra-light experience, whip away.