Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cracking Open the Egg

Easter was just upon us, though this post is probably late in coming, it will serve as a valuable tool for all bakers that want to know if the egg is all that it is cracked up to be.

Yes, this essential ingredient is more than omelets for breakfast.  It's uses are endless, from ice cream to cakes, from breakfast to dessert, the culinary industry would not be here if it were not for the egg.

 The Composition of an Egg

The egg is comprised of six items; three of which are important for uses as culinarians.

The Anatomy of an Egg
(1) The Egg Shell
(2) The Egg Yolk
(3) The Egg White

The Egg Shell: The egg shell is what protects the egg from spoilage and other outer elements that could otherwise damage the fragile interior.  One thing that must be kept in mind, the shell is rather porous.  It is essential to properly store eggs away from strong odors, like chopped onions, to keep them tasting fresh.  Because the shell is porous, it also allows for quite a bit of moisture to evaporate through the exterior if not stored correctly.  To keep eggs lasting fresh longer, keep in a chilled atmosphere, but not freezing.

The Egg Yolk:  The yolk is high in iron & other trace mineral solids.  Though, as a cook, we are more concerned with the high protein and fat properties that it can contribute to our processes.  The make up of the yolk is as follows:
Solids:                                     50%
Fat:                                         30%
Protein:                                  16%
Trace Minerals:                       4%

The Egg White:  The egg white is primarily water, with the majority of it's function in the coagulation of albumin protein.  When adding an additional egg to a recipe, the extra moisture must be in compensation for another moisture source.  This is one reason why so much in food science has to do with the amount of eggs in a recipe.  Baking is often nonnegotiable as far fundamental ingredients are concerned.  Eggs happens to be one of those ingredients.  The make up of the egg white is as follows:
Water:                                    87%
Albumin Protein:                  12.5%
Other Substances:                   >1%


Weight Composition of an Egg 

Probably one of the most key understandings of an egg is, how much does an egg weigh.  Home cooks have often laughed at why this would be so important.  But after we discuss the topic, allow me to give you an example why this is crucial.

1 Whole Egg (shelled) =            1.67 oz
     Egg White =                            1.00 oz
     Egg Yolk   =                              .67 oz

Anyone who understands baking, will convert measurements into direct weight.  This provides the greatest amount of accuracy and consistency.  This information will help you convert your recipes concerning eggs.  Though each egg will vary slightly in weight, this is the standard by which recipes are developed.  So it would make sense to use this as a home standard as well.

Other Helpful Egg Weights (shelled):

9.5 Whole Eggs = 1 Pound
16 Egg Whites   = 1 Pound
24 Egg Yolks     = 1 Pound

As stated before, if you are not convinced this information is of importance - consider the following:

Typically, home recipes are created in small amounts and only for a small amount of guests.  But consider that you need to do a recipe times 3 or 5, this can create an imbalance in a recipe that could esstentially go unnoticed if the recipe was created in a small amount. 

Here is a mathematical example:
A cookie recipe may call for 3 eggs for a single batch - but it's Christmas and you need to make the recipe x5 for the whole season; no problem or so you think.  This means you need a total 15 eggs.

What happens though if you purchase eggs that are slightly smaller than usual?

Instead of 1.67 oz, the eggs are 1.50 oz.  Ordinarily, if it is a single batch, missing .17 oz of egg is not going to make a difference.  However, take that .17 oz and multiply it by 15 eggs (for a recipe x5) and you have an egg deficit of .85 oz; that is more than a half an egg that you are eliminating.  That is enough to make a recipe taste "good, but it's not your best".

In the commercial world, this is even more crucial.  It is not uncommon for a bakery to go through 1,000 eggs a day.  If the eggs are .17 oz lighter, that is the difference of over 100 eggs that are missing in a recipe.  This deficit surely would equal failure.

The example above is why I convert my recipes to weight.  My results come out professional and consistent.  This is probably one of the biggest factors that contribute to success in baking. 

Functions of an Egg

Understanding how food interacts is essential to really knowing how to cook and bake.  Just because you can follow a recipe does not mean that you can cook or bake.  For each egg function I will provide a specific example where you can see the function of the egg at work.

Structure:  Eggs protein, present in both the yolk and white, help to give baked products structure.  This process is called coagulation.  One example of how coagulation works is cheesecake.  
Bittersweet Chocolate New York-style Cheesecake featured last Valentines Day is a prime example.  The recipe uses four eggs and the process of coagulation to help thicken the cheesecake during the baking process. 


Emulsifying of Fat & Liquids:  I am sure you have experienced how oil & vinegar separate.  Did you ever try adding an egg to it?  The egg will act as an 'intercessor', between the oil and vinegar create a smooth consistency.  This process is called emulsification

Hollandaise Sauce uses egg yolks to emulsify clarified butter and lemon juice, two substances that would not typically mix very well.  Lemon juice is first whisked into the yolk, before adding to the butter.

Leavening: Eggs, when beaten, incorporate air in tiny cells.  When heated, the eggs coagulate (see structure) and trap the air inside the protein.  This air expands during the baking process and creates a leavening effect.

Angel Food Cake is a prime example of how eggs use this process.  Egg whites are whipped vigorously to create a light airy texture that looks like foam.  This is then baked and the coagulation of the albumin protein in the whites traps the air to create a mile high cloud like dessert.

Souffles, muffins, cakes, and even some yeasted breads can use eggs in the same manner, too.

Moisture: Eggs are mostly water.  As mentioned earlier, this must be calculated in the overall water content of a product.  Food scientist pay a great deal to how eggs interact in recipes.  Eggs are a fundamental baking ingredient that cannot be altered.

Egg-based Custard/Mousse use this principle to create moist and smooth pudding-like consistencies.  Be certain to subscribe to Smacznego: A Blog to keep updated on future recipes like this Cappuccino Mousse with German Chocolate Shell.
Flavor & Nutritional Value:  Eggs have a unique flavor all to its own.  Anyone who has had the pleasure of tasting a fresh cooked omelet or scrambled eggs knows this first hand.  The nutritional value of an egg is high in protein, iron and other trace minerals essential for the body to function properly.

Be sure to subscribe to SmacznegoaCompany on YouTube for an upcoming video on 'How to Make the Best Scrambled Eggs'.

Color: Eggs give a golden color, attributed to the yellow yolk.  Just look at the beautiful shade of yellow pictured in the hollandaise sauce.  Take a note on the golden color of homemade eggnog, too.  These are just two examples of color.  Some people also use eggs to brush the top of pastries because of the browning property of protein. 

Look at the pie to the left.  I achieved the beautiful golden color by brushing an egg white on the top (no yolk).  Eggs, even without the yolk, still has coloring properties as a finishing technique.

So, there you have it...

There is so much more to an egg than coloring them bright shades for Easter.  Sure, they're fun for kids.  But to the cook, they are one of the most fundamental basics to understand. 

Be sure to subscribe to both SmacznegoaCompany on YouTube and with your email address on the left of the page for recipes and complete updates on Smacznego: A Blog.

Please Comment Below!  We'd love for you to add your experience with eggs below.  Whether it's a holiday tradition, a scientific discovery, or just a recipe, Smacznego: A Blog would LOVE to hear more from it's subscribers.  Remember this site is a resource for you to become a better home cook by learning the secrets of the commercial kitchen.


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