When it comes to my favorite desserts—baked Alaska, berry pavlova and chiffon cake—meringue tends to play an important part. This light, marshmallow-y confection is made with beaten egg whites and it’s what gives so many treats their signature style. But getting that airy sweet just right can be a bit tricky for less experienced bakers.
That’s where our Test Kitchen team comes in. These experts break down how to beat egg whites into the perfect soft and stiff peaks for your meringues, macarons, angel food cakes and much much more. To get the idea of how to whip up these whites into soft (or stiff) peaks, we’ll start with a basic recipe.
How to Get Soft and Stiff Peaks
6 egg whites, room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Step 1: Set yourself up for success
Before you even start beating the egg whites, it’s important to take a few steps to make sure you get the best end product possible. First, be sure that you’re working with room temperature egg whites. This will help you get the maximum volume from the eggs for a lighter, fluffier result. Also, be sure there are no yolks (not even a drop!) in your egg whites. This will also prevent you from getting the right volume. You can learn a few tips about separating eggs here.
Also be sure that you’re working with a pristinely clean bowl, preferably metal or glass. Any speck or residual grease from your last batch of cookies could prevent your egg whites from beating up to the right volume. Avoid plastic, if possible, because it’s more likely to to hold onto any oily residue.
Step 2: Start beating to get soft peaks
With your egg whites in your mixing bowl, add in the cream of tartar. The cream of tartar is important here—it helps stabilize the eggs so they hold their shape.
Start beating your whites with the whisk attachment on medium speed. At first your eggs will appear translucent and frothy. That means you’re just getting started. With a little more time, you should end up at the soft peak stage. You can tell you’ve developed soft peaks by turning over your whisk. There should be a definite peak shape, but it’s loose and melts back into the mix after a few seconds.
Step 3: Keep going for stiff peaks
If your recipe calls for stiff peaks, you can keep beating the egg whites. Stiff peaks are formed when you lift up your beater and you get a nice peak and it holds its shape (rather than melting away like with soft peaks).
Step 4: Over-mixed egg whites
You do not want to get to step four! Overworked egg whites won’t be a good addition to any of your recipes. You can tell your egg whites have been mixed too long if they look grainy and you see liquid pooling at the bottom of the bowl.
If you’re in a real bind, you can try to recover over-mixed egg whites by adding in an additional egg room temperature egg white to help loosen up this mixture.
With this essential technique mastered, you’re ready to take on classic desserts like lemon meringue pie (or one of its tasty variations).