My battle with egg whites

And now, ladies and gentlemen, a cake.

And not just any cake, the most delicious flour-less chocolate cakes I’ve ever had. The usual density of flour-less cake is offset by a very delicate quality.  And this my friends, comes from whipped egg whites.

Now, this kitchen we’re in is quite small, and lacks an electric mixer. So when I decided I wanted to make this cake, and promised I would, I was not really thinking about the egg whites.   When I made this last time, it was super easy because I had my handy dandy standing mixer to do all of the hard work.  But it was too late to turn back by the time I realized that there was no electric mixer here, and some research told me the immersion blender my Nana did have would not sufficiently incorporate enough air into the egg whites, which is essential for successful whipping.  I was in trouble.

I did even more research, and found that metal bowls (especially copper) fare much better than plastic – which can retain some grease on their surface. Grease must be avoided at all costs, including the yolk. Everything must be so very, very clean and also dry.  Suddenly I was afraid; there were all these rules and warnings telling me I was likely to fail, this was getting serious.  Thank goodness my sister answered my cry for help by sending me a website with instructions that discussed preparation and technique, which I desperately needed.

Then, it was time.  This cake is actually pretty simple…unless, of course, you’re doing it old school. I found a metal pot and whisk and cleaned them as best I could. There was no turning back.  Nana had put Barbra Streisand on the iPod speakers, and I felt good, channeling my inner-Babs.  I started whisking rhythmically, not too hard at first, just enough to get it foaming (as I was instructed to do).  Then it was time to really get going, so I put in everything I had.  Switching arms every so often, I didn’t stop—I was explicitly told not to.  Oh boy was I mixing, and my arms were already getting tired and I was nowhere near done!  But then, “Tell Him” came on the iPod, and as some of you know, this is my ultimate favorite diva song. Ever. So there I was, whipping with all of my strength, tiring with every stroke, and singing.  Thank goodness no one else came in the room. I was slightly crazed at this point.

But magically, the foam started to grow, the whites were actually whipping!! Now I really couldn’t stop!  I was so close!  Eventually I threw in a little sugar and kept on whipping, switching arms back and forth to keep up speed, until finally! there were soft peaks!  I did it! L’ho fatto! I folded the egg whites in with the egg yolks and chocolate, put it in the oven, a breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe some people wouldn’t be impressed with this, and I’m sure there are countless chefs who do this all the time, no big deal.  But people, I was proud.

If you decide to embark on such an endeavor, I suggest reading this:

And here’s the recipe, which I copied out of a cookbook I bought as a gift for a friend.

Racines Cake

From My Best Recipes by David Lebovitz


Cocoa powder, for preparing the pan

10 ounces (280g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup (4 ounces/115g) salted butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon freshly brewed espresso

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup (50g) plus 2 tablespoons (30g) of granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (20g) cocoa nibs (optional)

Powdered sugar, for dusting the cake (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 (175 C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) spring form pan, dust it with a bit of cocoa powder and tap out any excess.

In a large heat -proof bowl, combine the chocolate, butter and espresso. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in vanilla.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and the 1/4 cub granulated sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute.

In a clean, dry bowl and with a clean whip attachment, whisk egg whites on low speed until they begin to hold their shape. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (30g) granulated sugar and whisk on high speed until the whites hold soft peaks.

Fold the beaten egg yolks into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in half of the whipped egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites, mixing just until there are no visibly streaks of egg whites. Do not overfold.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with cocoa nibs, if using, and bake until the cake feels as though its just barely set in the center, about 25 minutes. It shouldn’t feel too firm. Let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Release the sides of the pan and dust the cake with powdered sugar, if using.


1 Comment

Filed under Cake, Chocolate, Italian, Recipe, Travel

One response to “My battle with egg whites

  1. Jen

    oh man. “tell him”. what an inspiration.

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