Everyone wants the eggs they use to make their beloved dishes to be the freshest they can be, yes? My mom sure did. If I had a nickel for every time she hollered “And don’t forget to look at the date on the carton!” as I set out on a supermarket egg-buying mission, why…I’d be treating myself and a few friends to some fancy ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery.
And no wonder. I didn’t know this at the time, clearly, but the freshness of an egg really matters to those who want their soufflés to rise properly, their egg whites to fluff up nice and stiff and their hard-boiled eggs to have the yolks smack straight in the center. Older models can’t be trusted. Having lost their oomph due to normal age degradation and loss of moisture, they tend to be thinner, runnier and more unpredictable. Instead of contributing to recipes, they end up being their own recipe for small disasters and disappointments in the kitchen.
The litmus test for freshness has generally been to analyze the yolk’s color. The richer and more vibrant the yellow, the fresher it was thought to be. Not so, according to Dr. Patricia A. Curtis, Professor and Director of Auburn University’s Food Systems Institute and resident egg expert.
As it turns out, the color of an egg’s yolk has everything to do with the hens’ diet. Its gorgeous yellow comes from plant pigments called xanthophyllus, which are found in commonly used corn feeds.
So what about those yolks with the incredibly deep and vibrant yellows? They’re not any fresher, but they do come from hens that also snack on such tantalizing fare as marigold petals in addition to their staple corn diet. The vibrant orange yolks of duck eggs are another case in point. They are attributed to beta carotene and a pigment called canthaxanthin, both found in the small water bugs and crustaceans that make up a large part of the ducks’ diets.
With the debunking of the egg yolk color/freshness theory, it appears we’ve been left to our own devices. Luckily for us, agricultural development and the ease of transportation have made securing fresh eggs easier for the average consumer than ever before. Long gone are the days when chickens played hide-n-seek with their farmers, laying eggs in the unlikeliest places and then cackling away as their poor masters scavenged the grounds. Long gone are the days of spotty commercial rail, truck and carriage transport. Commercial egg producers now can typically get eggs to market within three to four days of the eggs being laid, if not sooner. That’s pretty darn fresh.
Still, once we get fresh eggs home, we want to keep them that way. Following three simple steps goes a long way to ensuring this happens.
First, store your eggs in the refrigerator. According to the seminal book On Food and Cooking, by award-winning American food author and chemist Harold McGee, egg quality deteriorates four times faster when kept at room temperature than when stored in the refrigerator. As it is, even an oil-coated egg in a humid refrigerator loses 4 milligrams of water to evaporation every day!
For this reason it is better to buy eggs cold out of a supermarket cooler rather than out of those open, refrigerated shelves.
Third, skip the well-meaning egg compartment many refrigerator manufacturers placed in the top third of their refrigerator doors. The agitation caused by the continual opening and closing of refrigerator doors causes egg whites to deteriorate and lose their thickness and body even faster. Instead, store them on the bottom shelf, which is the coldest part of the refrigerator.
Fourth, though not related to preserving freshness per se, store eggs in airtight containers as opposed to those classic cardboard holders in which they are generally sold. Doing so prevents them from absorbing the questionable essence of, say,…that deliciously stinky goat cheese one shelf up.
Of course, we could render the process of keeping eggs fresh completely irrelevant by using them immediately as ingredients in a nice assortment of delicious, egg-based recipes. Our tummies will certainly be happier for it.
making vanilla apple cake
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper and cut the extra paper with kitchen scissors.
Grease the pan with butter.
Break 4 large eggs in a large bowl or the metal bowl of a stand mixer.
I love when I don’t have to separate the whites and yolks because it becomes a stress-free way of making 8 year-old Kira absolutely ecstatic, since I ask her to do it. One day she’ll stop thinking it’s the hands-down best way to spend 5 minutes and I will be a little sad…
Add ¾ cup powdered sugar and the zest of 1 lemon in a deep bowl until the mixture is thick and creamy.
By the way, when zesting a lemon, be sure to avoid peeling the white part of the lemon directly below the beautiful yellow peel. It tends to be bitter and will pass along some of its orneriness onto to whatever it is you’re making.
Quarter, core and peel 3 Golden Delicious apples and slice them thinly. Place them in a medium-sized bowl along with the juice of 1 lemon.
By the way, I slice the apples after I prep the springform pan and whip up the eggs and I recommend that you do the same. When I’ve done this step first, the apples ‘marinaded’ in the lemon juice too long, I think, and I found they got more watery and stole some oomph from the foaminess of the whipped eggs when I added them into the batter.
Place a 3/4 cup of unbleached white flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt in a small bowl and aerate it with a small whisk. You can of course use a sifter to do this as well, but I don’t care much to use them. It’s just as well too, since Erik washed it with soapy water once when he was helping me out and there are now hardened pebbles of flour stuck in there that make the sifter sound more like a maraca than a cooking implement.
Add the flour mixture slowly to the batter.
Then, slowly drizzle 1 stick of melted and cooled unsalted butter along the side of the bowl and fold it in gently with a metal spoon.
Aerate another 1/2 cup of unbleached white flour in the same small bowl with a whisk and add it to the batter, mixing gently. Add the sliced apples and mix slowly into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared buttered springform pan and level the surface with a spatula.
Place the springform pan in the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top of the cake is a beautiful golden color and an inserted knife comes out clean. Allow it to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Release the springform pan and carefully take the cake out.
Now cool for 30 more minutes and then dust with powdered sugar (and some additional lemon zest if desired.) Serve with optional whipped cream. Makes 8 servings.