How to Temper Eggs

No one wants scrambled eggs in their ice cream! Learn how to temper eggs to create silky, smooth custards, soups, sauces and more.

Eggs are nothing short of incredible. You can learn how to cook an egg five different ways for breakfast, creating a different texture and eating experience with each cooking method. A lesser-known (but no less important) cooking technique is called tempering.

Learning how to temper eggs is critical when combining cold eggs with hot liquids, allowing them to thicken soups, sauces and custards without scrambling. So how do you pull it off, and when should you temper eggs?

What Is Tempering?

Tempering is the process of slowly bringing two liquids to the same temperature before blending them together. Tempering helps the two come together without the cold liquid breaking, which can affect the finish product’s look and texture. It’s important to temper chocolate when making candy, for example, so the chocolate doesn’t lose its glossy sheen. In the case of dairy, tempering keeps milk from curdling. With eggs, tempering prevents the proteins in the eggs from binding together so they won’t clump together and scramble.

Why Is Tempering Important?

If you’re making a dish like egg drop soup, you won’t care if there are cooked pieces of egg in the finished product. In fact, that’s what you’re going for! In other dishes—like custard, pudding, ice cream or smooth sauces enriched with egg—you don’t want to drop a cold egg into hot liquid. Cooked egg in ice cream would be unappealing, to say the least. Instead, you’ll temper the eggs to slowly increase the temperature of the whisked eggs, harnessing their thickening power without turning them into a firm form. It’s a similar process to making hollandaise sauce for eggs Benedict, except you’ll add the eggs back to the pot to finish cooking after they’re tempered.

How to Temper Eggs

Step 1: Whisk the eggs

woman whisking eggs in large glass bowlJGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Start by whisking the eggs together in a large bowl until they’re homogenized. Make sure the bowl is large enough to add two cups (or more) of additional liquid.

Step 2: Slowly add hot liquid to the eggs

Place the bowl of eggs on the counter. I like to put a kitchen towel under the bowl to keep it from moving when I whisk. Start whisking the eggs with your dominate hand while you grab a ladle of the hot liquid with the other hand. Slowly drizzle a steady stream of hot liquid into the bowl of eggs. Make sure to keep whisking the entire time! Constant whisking will keep the eggs moving, raising the temperature of the eggs slowly enough to prevent them from cooking.

Depending on the recipe, a single ladle might be enough to bring the eggs to the right temperature. Recipes that call for tempering many eggs might need an extra ladle or two. The best way to test is to test the temperature with a clean finger. If it’s warm to the touch, it’s likely tempered enough.

Step 3: Add the egg mixture to the pot

Now that the eggs are tempered, you can slowly pour the egg mixture into the pot, whisking continuously while you add. From here, follow the recipe’s instructions for additional cooking. Some recipes, like custard or an ice cream base, call for cooking over low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Many soup recipes, like Greek avgolemono soup, call for bringing the soup to a light simmer before serving. Just be sure not to boil, or you’ll risk breaking those carefully tempered eggs.

Things You Need to Know About Tempered Eggs

What should you do if your tempered eggs don’t turn out?

We usually have a fix for these types of mistakes: If you accidentally curdle cake batter, you can add extra flour, one tablespoon at a time, to smooth it out. When you need to save a broken sauce like aioli, you whisk the broken aioli into a new egg yolk.

If you’ve tempered the eggs and the texture turns out a little grainy, strain out the bits using a fine-mesh strainer, or save the mixture by blending it on high in a high-powered blender.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to reverse scrambled eggs, so you may want to start over if the eggs scrambled into large curds.

Are tempered eggs raw?

The tempering process only heats the eggs enough to keep the proteins from binding together and scrambling, so they’re not fully cooked. It’s important to add the tempered eggs back to the hot liquid and continue cooking the mixture according to the recipe directions.

Does tempering eggs kill salmonella?

According to the USDA, fresh eggs should be cooked until the white and yolk are firm, or until they reach 160° F. While the tempering process won’t get eggs to this temperature, most custard recipes call for cooking the mixture until it reaches 180°, so there shouldn’t be a salmonella risk. When it comes to tempered eggs in pasta dishes like carbonara, the eggs won’t reach 160°, so you may want to purchase pasteurized eggs if salmonella is a concern.

Do you need to temper eggs for custard?

It is possible to make a custard without tempering eggs: The key is adding all the ingredients to the pot when they’re cold. If you whisk constantly as the custard heats, there’s no need for tempering! But, if you’re starting out by heating the milk or cream first, you’ll want to temper the eggs before adding them to the hot liquid.

Tempered eggs are crucial for making the best ice cream. Give it a try with our homemade ice cream recipes.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.