Basic Baking Ingredients: Eggs
Eggs are a common baking ingredient in recipes for everything from crepes to cakes. Eggs help provide structure, moisture and leavening power as well. Eggs help create airy, fluffy cakes, like angel food cake. They can contribute a rich color, such as in brioche breads. Eggs are available in different sizes, and different parts of eggs can serve independent functions in baked goods. This article references a hen’s egg, which is the primary type of egg sold commercially in grocery stores, although the same processes for choosing quality eggs goes for buying directly from a farmer as well.
Learn the Parts of the Egg
An average chicken egg weighs about 2 ounces, or 57 grams. The egg is comprised of a thick, clear gelatinous mass called albumen, which makes up about two thirds of the egg’s mass. The yellow yolk in the center, also called the ovum, contributes the other third of the egg’s weight, and the majority of the egg’s fat and protein content. The albumen is mostly water, but also contains protein. The shells can be white or brown, and are thin and porous.
Determine the Right Size Eggs
Eggs come in different sizes; jumbo, extra large, large, medium and small. Many recipes will call for a specific size of egg. In that case, be sure to use the recommended size. Eggs are like pre-measured ingredients. If a recipe calls for three jumbo eggs but you use three large eggs, the recipe will be missing integral moisture and protein content to create the correct end result. If the recipe does not specify what size of egg to use, default to large eggs, as this is often an assumption on the part of the cook or recipe writer.
Choose Between Different Egg Colors
The color of the eggshell is a result of the hen’s breed. The egg color is largely due to the genetic history of the hen, but typically the breed of hen indicates the color of the eggs. White Leghorns are a popular breed, and are often used for laying white eggs. Rhode Island Reds are most often used for laying brown eggs. In general, hens with white feathers lay white eggs, while red-feathered hens lay brown ones. Brown and white eggs have the same nutritional content, cooking characteristics and taste. So, Grade AA white eggs and Grade AA brown eggs are really no different, except perhaps in price. The hens used to produce brown eggs are often larger and require more care and more feed, which sometimes results in more of a price markup.
Determine Egg Quality
Eggs are graded on a system developed by the USDA. These grades refer to the quality of the egg both inside and out, as well as the weight and other qualities influencing the value of the product. According to U.S. standards, graders often hold eggs before bright lights called candling lights in order to gain a better visual of the quality of the eggs’ interiors. Some eggs are even cracked open and spilled out completely so the interior can be more easily inspected and compared to others from the same hen or group of hens.
- Grade AA. Grade AA eggs must have clean, normal shells and have firm yolks and thick whites, which are firm, gelatinous and less likely to spread. These eggs are free of any defects. This is the highest quality egg rating.
- Grade A. Grade A eggs have round yolks and reasonably firm whites, but both components are less firm and possibly more liquid in consistency than Grade AA eggs.
- Grade B. Grade B eggs are less than perfect. They may have abnormal shells with thin spots or pronounced ridges. The yolks and whites are also less defined, and may spread out once broken open.
Know When to Use an Egg Substitute
Some people may be unable to consume eggs due to allergies, dietary restrictions or personal preference. In this case, an egg substitute may be preferable to using actual eggs in a recipe. When using an egg substitute, take into account the number of eggs in the recipe, the flavors you’re going for, and the types of substitutions you might try.
Be aware of the number of eggs in the recipe. Generally, recipes that require fewer eggs are more receptive to egg substitutions. A cookie recipe that calls for one egg will turn out better with an egg replacement than a cake recipe that calls for four eggs. So cookies often work well with an egg substitute since they usually require only one or two eggs. Angel food cakes, however, which can require up to a dozen egg whites, do not respond as well to egg substitutes, which do not perfectly replicate the properties of real eggs.
Take flavor into account. Sometimes, an egg substitute has a much different flavor than an egg. Using bananas or applesauce as an egg replacement, for instance, will markedly alter the taste.
Consider all the options. Luckily, there are a number of egg replacements out there. Before choosing one, consider the recipe. Eggs are used for their specific properties when it comes to baking, and the replacement will need to replicate the proper function, whether that be adding moisture or improving the rise and texture. The following are common egg-replacement options for use in baking:
Commercial egg susbtitutes. There are many store-bought eggs substitutes out there which can be found in the refrigerated section right next to the egg cartons. These usually work well in baked goods like muffins and cookies, but they can be used for making omelets or scrambles. Check to see if the substitute contains parts of eggs. Some brands do contain egg whites, so be sure to check the label, especially if you have an allergy. Others do not contain any egg parts, but may be artificially colored to look like they do.
Bananas. Mash up half of a banana to replace an egg in baked goods like muffins, pancakes or quick-breads like pumpkin bread or banana bread. The banana has a more potent aroma and taste than an egg, but it does well to add the moisture and thick consistency like an egg. Be sure the recipe includes baking powder or baking soda to help the baked good rise for a light, fluffier texture that eggs normally help achieve.
Egg Whites as Egg Substitutes
Bakers who want to reduce the fat and cholesterol content in their baked items may choose to use only the whites of eggs. The whites are composed of mainly water and protein; it is the yolks that contain the fat and cholesterol content. Egg whites can be substituted in many recipes that call or eggs, as well as for non-baked goods like omelets. Use about two eggs’ worth of whites to replace one whole egg. However, be aware that the yolks of eggs contribute moisture and binding properties to cakes, breads and cookies, so add a teaspoon of oil for every egg yolk removed to help recreate the tender moistness desired.
- Applesauce. Mixing up a recipe with a ¼ cup of applesauce in place of an egg is a good choice for sweet baked goods like waffles or muffins. Applesauce, like bananas, offers a thick, moist, natural substitution for an egg. This method may cause baked goods to end up slightly heavier or more dense, so adding a pinch of baking soda or powder will help create the lighter, fluffier outcome.
Tofu. Tofu is often used as a replacement for scrambled eggs or quiche, but silken tofu, a smooth, soft version of tofu, is an appropriate egg substitute for using in baked goods. This type of tofu will not change the taste of a recipe, and works especially well in brownies, pancakes and other baked items that are usually thicker and heavier to begin with. Tofu is not appropriate for baked goods like angel food cake, which needs to be light and fluffy.
Homemade substitutes. Sometimes, a few ingredients from the pantry can create a viable egg replacement. For instance, mixing 2 tablespoons of water plus one tablespoon of oil with two teaspoons of baking powder works will to achieve the consistency and properties of an egg without the color or flavor. Other remedies include mixing one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with three tablespoons of water. The mixture will gel, especially if it is lightly simmered prior to using. Others still use a one-to-one mixture of agar powder and water to replace egg whites. Agar powder is available in health food store and some Asian grocers.
Store Eggs Properly. Eggs, when purchased fresh and eaten in moderation, are part of a healthy diet. To ensure your eggs are nutritious, it is essential to properly store eggs by keeping them refrigerated to help avoid food-borne illnesses. Store eggs in their carton away from other foods, in a sectioned off area of the refrigerator if possible. Egg shells are porous and will pick up odors if stored in the same area as other foods, especially onions and garlic. Eggs will last up to one month in the refrigerator, but eggs will change slightly as they age. The freshest eggs (under a week old) are ideal for using in baking, while slightly older eggs are great for hard-boiling; older eggs peel more easily. Cracked eggs will go bad within a day or two, so always check the carton before purchasing.
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