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When your recipe specifies to beat egg whites to stiff peaks, we’ve got you covered! Here’s everything you need to know about how to beat egg whites stiff for the airiest cakes, meringues, soufflés, and other feather-light desserts.

By Wini Moranville
Updated September 01, 2020
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Ever notice how some desserts can taste indulgent yet leave you feeling lifted up rather than weighed down? Angel Food, Chiffon, and Sponge Cakes fall into this category, as do meringue-topped pies and soufflés. Meringue cookies and pavlovas achieve this neat balance too. All of these sweets have one thing in common: Each calls for beating egg whites to stiff peaks at some point in the recipe. Indeed, there’s no way around it; if you want to make some of the world’s most refined desserts, you’ll have to learn how to make stiff peaks from egg whites. Fortunately, it can be done in just a few simple steps.

beaters above glass bowl of meringue
Credit: Scott Little

How to Beat Egg Whites to Stiff Peaks Step-by-Step

Before we can get to the actual beating, we need to get our eggs ready.

cracking egg through separator into glass bowl
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

1. Separate the Eggs

Fun fact about eggs: They separate more easily when they’re cold, but you’ll achieve stiff egg whites more easily if you let them warm up a bit before beating. Therefore, use an egg separator ($6, Bed Bath & Beyond) to separate the eggs straight from the fridge. Then let the whites stand 30 minutes; at this point, they will beat to stiff peaks higher and faster than cold egg whites.

Note that in order to achieve stiff peaks, egg whites should be free of any yolk. Therefore, each time you separate the egg, let the white drain into a small bowl such as a custard cup ($7, Bed Bath & Beyond). Then transfer each white to the mixing bowl you’ll use to beat the whites. Repeat, allowing each white to drain separately into the small bowl before adding it to the large mixing bowl. This keeps the whites in the mixing bowl uncontaminated if a yolk breaks while you’re separating an egg.

Test Kitchen Tip: Need help using up those leftover yolks? Stir them into our Best-Ever Vanilla Pudding or make Lemon Curd. And if you’re not ready to do these little projects today, find out how to store egg yolks.

2. Get Your Equipment Ready

While you’re waiting for those whites to warm up a bit, make sure your bowl, beaters, and spatula are all clean and dry. Any amount of grease or egg yolk will keep your whites from beating to stiff peaks properly. So, before you begin, wash all your equipment with hot, soapy water. Use a glass or stainless-steel bowl; avoid plastic bowls, as they can retain a greasy residue from previous uses.

Test Kitchen Tip: Should you use a hand mixer ($20, Target) or stand mixer ($380, Williams Sonoma)? Both work, but you’ll need to take the bowl size into account: According to The American Egg Board, a small mixing bowl is best for up to three egg whites. Use a large mixing bowl for four or more whites.

egg whites beaten to stiff peaks standing straight on beaters of a white hand mixer over a glass bowl of beaten egg whites
Credit: Blaine Moats

3. Beat Egg Whites Until Stiff

Now, the mixer does its magic. Turn on the mixer to medium speed and beat until soft peaks form, then beat on high until stiff peaks form. You've hit stiff peak stage when you have glossy peaks that stand straight. Here are a few pointers for achieving stiff egg whites.

  • Recipes often call for adding cream of tartar before beating whites to stiff peaks. This acidic ingredient helps stabilize the whites. Use as directed.
  • When making meringue and other desserts that call for adding sugar to the whites, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until soft peaks form (tips curl). Then start adding the sugar as directed in the recipe (usually a tablespoon at a time) and continue beating on high speed until stiff peaks form--the tips will stand straight up when you lift the beaters from the egg whites.

Test Kitchen Tip: How long to beat egg whites? Once you start adding the sugar, it will take about 4 minutes on high speed for stiff peaks to form.

  • Savory dishes (such as soufflés) require no sugar. Simply beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). This will take 4 to 5 minutes total.

Ta-da! You’ve done it! Now that you know how to beat egg whites to stiff peaks, you can slather those stiff egg whites atop a Lemon Meringue Pie, pipe them from a bag for Mint Meringue Cookies, swirl them into a Pavlova, add them to a cheese sauce for a luscious main-dish soufflé, and so much more.  Indeed, by learning how to beat egg whites stiff, you’ve expanded your cooking universe exponentially; soon you’ll be making a lot of people at your table very, very happy.

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