Common Egg-Related Culinary Terms

This information republished with permission from the American Egg Board.

Certain terms or phrases occur with regularity in egg recipes. Here are many of them along with an explanation.

Cook until knife inserted near center comes out clean

Baked custard mixtures are done when a metal knife inserted off center comes out clean. The very center still may not be quite done, but the heat retained in the mixture will continue to cook it after removal from the oven. Cooking longer may result in a curdled and/or weeping custard. Cooking a shorter period may result in a thickened but not set custard.

Cook until just coats a metal spoon

For stirred custard mixtures, the eggs are cooked to the proper doneness when a thin film adheres to a metal spoon dipped into the custard. This point of coating a metal spoon is 20 to 30 degrees below boiling. Stirred custards should not boil. The finished product should be soft and thickened but not set. Stirred custards will thicken slightly after refrigeration.

Slightly beaten

Use a fork or whisk to beat eggs just until the yolks and whites are blended.

Well beaten

Use a mixer, blender, beater or whisk to beat eggs until they are light, frothy and evenly colored.

Thick and lemon-colored

Beat yolks at high speed with an electric mixer until they become a pastel yellow and form ribbons when the beater is lifted or they are dropped from a spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes. Although yolks can't incorporate as much air as whites, this beating does create a foam and is important to airy concoctions such as sponge cakes.

Add a small amount of hot mixture to eggs/egg yolks

When eggs or egg yolks are added to a hot mixture all at once, they may begin to coagulate too rapidly and form lumps. So, stir a small amount of the hot mixture into the yolks to warm them and then stir the warmed egg yolk mixture into the remaining hot mixture. This is called tempering.

Room temperature

Some recipes call for eggs to be at room temperature before eggs are to be combined with a fat and sugar. Cold eggs could harden the fat in such a recipe and the batter might become curdled. This could affect the texture of the finished product. Remove eggs from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using them or put them in a bowl of warm water while assembling other ingredients. For all other recipes, however, use eggs straight from the refrigerator.

The following cooking terms apply specifically to egg whites.


Fat inhibits the foaming of egg whites. Since egg yolks contain fat, they are often separated from the whites and the whites beaten separately to allow them to reach their fullest possible volume. Eggs are easiest to separate when cold, but whites reach their fullest volume if allowed to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before beating.

Many inexpensive egg separators are available. To separate, tap the midpoint of the egg sharply against a hard surface. Holding the egg over the bowl in which you want the whites, pull the halves apart gently. Let the yolk nestle into the cup like center of the separator and the white will drop through the slots into the bowl beneath.

Drop 1 egg white at a time into a cup or small bowl and then transfer it to the mixing bowl before separating another egg. This avoids the possibility of yolk from the last egg getting into several whites. Drop the yolk into another mixing bowl if needed in the recipe or into a storage container if not.

Add cream of tartar

Egg whites beat to greater volume than most other foods including whipping cream, but the air beaten into them can be lost quite easily. A stabilizing agent such as cream of tartar is added to the whites to make the foam more stable. Lemon juice works much the same way.

Add sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time

When making meringues and some cakes, sugar is slowly added to beaten egg whites. This serves to increase the stability of the foam. Sugar, however, can retard the foaming of the whites and must be added slowly so as not to decrease the volume. Beat the whites until foamy, then slowly beat in the sugar.

Stiff but not dry

Beat whites with a mixer, beater or whisk just until they no longer slip when the bowl is tilted. (A blender or food processor will not aerate them properly.) If egg whites are under beaten, the finished product may be heavier and less puffy than desired. If egg whites are over beaten, they may form clumps which are difficult to blend into other foods in the mixture and the finished product may lack volume.

Stiff peaks form

Stiff but not dry.

Soft peaks or piles softly

Whites that have been beaten until high in volume but not beaten to the stiff peak stage. When beater is lifted, peaks will form and curl over slightly.

Gently folded

When combining beaten egg whites with other heavier mixtures, handle carefully so that the air beaten into the whites is not lost. It's best to pour the heavier mixture onto the beaten egg whites. Then gradually combine the ingredients with a downward stroke into the bowl, across, up and over the mixture motion, using a spoon or rubber spatula. Come up through the center of the mixture about every three strokes and rotate the bowl as you are folding. Fold just until there are no streaks remaining in the mixture. Don't stir because this will force air out of the egg whites. If you have a stand mixer, put the mixing bowl on the turntable for easier turning as you fold.


Also known as syneresis or weeping. When egg mixtures such as custards or sauces are cooked too rapidly, the protein becomes overcoagulated and separates from the liquid leaving a mixture resembling fine curds and whey. If curdling has not progressed too far, it may sometimes be reversed by removing the mixture from the heat and stirring or beating vigorously.

To prevent syneresis or curdling, use a low temperature, stir, if appropriate for the recipe, and cool quickly by setting the pan in a bowl of ice or cold water and stirring for a few minutes.

The term curdling is usually used in connection with a stirred mixture such as custard sauce, while weeping or syneresis are more often used with reference to pie meringues or baked custards.