Eggs have been one of the essential ingredients not only in baking and cooking but also in other walks of life ! Right as toddlers we have been listening to this nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…’ where Humpty Dumpty is a personified egg. Eggs inspire philosophy as can be seen by the use of phrases like ‘Sunny side up’ and ‘all eggs in the same basket’ etc. They are a big part of nutrition ! They have managed to classify humans into eggitarian over and above vegetarian and non vegetarians! And if that wasn’t enough, the egg has touched geometry as well where it has a whole shape named after itself – yes the egg-shape!!!Last but not the least, egg has been party to this age old debate still raging that whether the eggs have come first or the hen! All in all it would be difficult to imagine life without eggs, especially in the culinary world!
It is very important to understand the role played by eggs in the culinary and baking world.Lets go back to the school basics where we need to understand the structure of the egg. Here is a diagram showing the cross-section of an egg.
As you can see, the most important parts of the egg are the yellow yolk which is at the centre, surrounded by the white called albumen and a shell which encompasses everything. It has two membranes inside the shell that have an air sac at the bigger end of the egg. The egg yolk is held in its place by strands called chalazae. We need to understand that the yolk is rich in fat as well as proteins along with some vitamins and iron. As it is rich in fats, people following weight loss diet avoid yolks. The white albumen is the protein. The shell holds the insides of the egg and is very fragile.
This small little ingredient is very versatile and performs lot of functions. I have tried to list out the role played by eggs in the culinary world making it an almost indispensable ingredient. Here you go!
- As it is rich in proteins, over and above the vitamins and iron, it holds an important place in nutrition. It is said to contain 17% protein which means each egg gives about 8-9 grams of protein.
- Eggs are very flavourful and hence used in lots of baked as well as non-baked dishes either in combination or stand alone.
- Because of rich protein content, it coagulates and imparts structure to cakes along with the gluten in the flour.
- As explained, in my earlier blog on leavening agents, eggs on whipping give the characteristic volume to the baked items by incorporating air in the batter. Please refer to the article on the same at this link Rising Stars of Baking World. Hence they act as rising agents. A good example of this is sponge cakes, soufflés.
- Egg Yolks have emulsifiers that help in forming smooth batter. Another use of eggs as emulsifiers is while making mayonnaise.
- Egg Yolks are rich in fat content and hence impart tenderness and creaminess to the product. A good example of this is egg custard or creme anglaise that is used to make ice creams as well. Another example is the creme brûlée.
- Because of the fat content in eggs, they help the browning of the crust in baked goods and give it that nice colour. Also, yellow of the yolks helps to give nice yellow colour to the cakes and curds like lemon curd.
- Eggs are also used to give washes to baked products to make them look shiny.
- Egg is also a very good binding agent and holds the cake well together. Eggless cakes often tend to crumble.
- Eggs are a very good thickening agents for custards and puddings.
So this tiny little packet of goodness has a key role to play. It is very difficult to achieve the same texture, volume and flavour in an eggless cake as compared to its with-egg counter-part.
Eggs can be classified as fresh or dried. Fresh eggs are the ones we get from the poultry. Dried eggs can be whole eggs, egg white or egg yolks dried. Dried eggs are often present in commercial cake mixes which just have to be re hydrated. Dried egg whites are used to make meringues or royal icing by mixing them with water. They are especially useful to make macarons where the water content of fresh eggs is a problem. One needs to follow manufacturer’s instructions on the amount of water to be added.
After having sung the praises of egg, it is mandatory to make something in the kitchen with eggs. Here is a recipe of my favourite French dessert called Creme Brûlée that demonstrates the thickening property and creaminess of the egg yolks.
Coffee Creme Brûlée
- Egg Yolks – 4
- Sugar – 40 g
- Amul Cream – 250 g
- Vanilla – 1 tsp
- Instant Coffee Powder – 2 tsp
- Brown Sugar
- Mix together yolks and sugar till well combined.
- Temper the eggs by gradually adding hot cream. Stir in vanilla.
- Dissolve instant coffee in 1/2 cup of hot water and add to the above mixture.
- Pour the mixture into ramekins. Place the ramekins in a pan with hot water and bake at 180 degrees celsius for 20-25 min till the custard is set.
- Cool and then refrigerate.
- Just before service, take out the ramekins. Sprinkle brown sugar and blow torch till the sugar caramelises. After cooling, this will form a thin hard crust on the top.
- Refrigerate and serve within 2 hours so that the sugar crust doesn’t start softening.
Now that you know the egg fundamentals and have a recipe as well, all I can say is literally get cracking!!!
Credits : Egg cross section diagram from the internet