beating egg whites--stiff vs. soft

Can anyone give me a primer on how long to beat egg whites so they have soft peaks and how long to beat for stiff peaks? I am always perplexed by this. I tried using an electric hand mixer and nothing happened. When I switched to my stand mixer, it worked. How did people beat before stand mixers were invented? Thanks.

  • Posted by: barb48
  • April 10, 2018


Henry R. April 12, 2018
I beat egg whites by hand. I don’t have a stand mixer or even an electric hand mixer, just a whisk. I usually take turns with my roommates (it ends up being 3 college guys making meringues - an unusual sight for people walking by our communal kitchen), and it still takes us 40-45 minutes from the first cracked egg until we’re filling ziploc bags to pipe out of. I’ve kind of figured out what it feels like when it’s done - stuff peaks, very shiny, smooth (no big sugar crystals), and feels kind of like marshmallow fluff. We know we’re close when our forearms are sore and we can only go 2-3 minutes before we have to switch.
702551 April 10, 2018
People used their hands.

My guess is that when you used your electric hand mixer, the mixer blades and/or mixing bowl had traces of oil which inhibits the formation of egg white meringue.

You can still beat egg whites manually, just like two hundred years ago. It just takes some effort.

Remember: stand mixers for household use are only about 50-60 years old and electric household appliances are maybe about 100 years old (and took a while to be adopted).

Even today in the 21st century, there are people beating egg whites, kneading bread dough, milling flour by hand.

There are machines that can pick crops or you can walk out to your garden and gently twist off the perfectly ripe tomato.

It's up to you to decide how much manual effort you want to put in.
Stephanie B. April 11, 2018
Yeah but just because you can beat egg whites, whip cream, and knead sticky doughs, etc. by hand, doesn't mean its the best way. There's a lot of things people used to do differently in the past century, but sometimes change is nice - I count stand mixers and electric appliances as a net plus.

Maybe you can walk out into your garden and gently twist of a perfectly vine-ripened tomato, but I can't. Keep in mind that for many people a garden and hand-milled heritage grains are privileges and it's not simply about how much effort they want to put in.
702551 April 11, 2018
Just pointing out what people have done for centuries and what people all over the world continue to do, even in the 21st century.

The vast majority of households on this planet do not have a stand mixer.

Heck, I have all the ability and resources to acquire all of the latest and greatest consumer household kitchen appliances and yet I still knead pasta dough by hand.

It's a personal choice and I'm simply answering the original poster's inquiry: people (especially ordinary household cooks) have gotten by for centuries without electric appliances.

It's how you use a tool (or don't use a tool) that is the most important.

Such you can use every single automated machine to crank out your dinner, or you can roll up your sleeves and do it by hand.

You can see some of this dichotomy is both high end and low end restaurants.

Machine tools may often be more convenient, but they aren't necessarily better.
creamtea April 10, 2018
I don't know of you beat the same batch of whites first with the hand mixer and then with the stand mixer or a different batch; if there was any speck of fat (or a trace of yolk in the mixture) it won't beat into a meringue. If the eggs are too fresh, you will also have difficulty. Here are some past articles about beating egg whites : I often use a hand mixer and am careful to very slowly add any sugar after a certain point when soft peaks are reached and the foam seems stable enough to support the addition. Having said that, I did once or twice manage beat whites by hand with a whisk and it didn't take as long as expected. I don't know that there's a specific amount of time that it takes, it's a combination of factors. Helps to add salt or a bit of acid preferably cream of tartar (but I have used a little squeeze of lemon when I didn't have C.O.T on hand).
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