Any fundamental food, like the egg, must be served in a variety of ways or we tire of them. Foods having short seasons should be prepared in the simplest fashion.
The nutritive value of the food is not materially changed by a variation in the method of cooking, provided no additions are made to it. It may appeal more to the palate in one form than another, and the time of digestion may vary, though in the end as much may be absorbed in the one case as in the other.
To illustrate this point, let us take two eggs costing at average prices two cents each, or four cents. Whether boiled in the shell or dropped from the shell into boiling water, their food value would be practically the same; when scrambled or made into an omelet there is a slight addition of nutritive material.
But the rigid economist says that eggs at two cents apiece are too expensive for the family of limited means. Then comes in the art of cooking to show how the eggs may be combined with less costly food materials to make several palatable dishes which may take the place of meats and yet require but little more labor in preparation.
First, the two eggs may be combined with one cup of white sauce; this may be served with the omelet, or blended with the scrambled egg, or made into a souffle, or served with hard boiled eggs chopped or sliced.
The identical quantities might be used in each case. By such combination the cost of the dish is doubled, but it will go at least twice as far and its fuel value is more than trebled. Or, instead of the sauce, we may use one cup of milk thickened with white bread crumbs and well salted and omit the butter or use less. This will reduce both cost and fuel value.
The foundation may be again extended and varied. To the two eggs and cup of white sauce may be added two ounces of grated cheese or two ounces of chopped ham. If the ham is of average fatness, the fuel value of the cheese and ham will be about the same. The ham might be more expensive than the cheese were it not that this is a way to turn to good account the smaller bits of meat. By this addition the dish, at two and a half times the cost of the eggs, becomes about five times as efficient in fuel value.
This combination may be served in many forms, - the cheese may be warmed in the sauce and poured over the eggs hard boiled, poached or made into an omelet, and the ham might be used in the same way.
After mixing sauce, cheese, and yolks of raw eggs, the stiff whites of the egg may be folded in and the mixture baked in one dish or several little ones.
All such combinations are naturally eaten with some form of bread, and here again the whole cost is diminished with an increase of fuel value.
A summary of these possible combinations may be clearer in tabular form, as follows:
2 eggs .......................
1 C. Milk.....
. . . 2 OZ.
. . . 2 OZ.
It would be interesting to trace the history of egg cooking and find who first discovered that eggs cooked in milk, sweetened and flavored, made the palatable compound we know as custard; or who first discovered the delicious sponge cake or "diet bread," as our fore-mothers called it.
All our modern recipes for sponge cake, angel cake, lady-fingers, and sponge drops, are but slight variations from the recipes to be found in old cook books, which call for the weight of the eggs in sugar and half the weight of the eggs in flour.
The tendency of the artistic cook is to separate the two parts of the egg, using the yolk to produce certain effects and the white for others.
The proportions are about the same in the angel cake as in the sponge cake, but the egg whites only are used. The egg yolks, left from such cakes, are more desirable than the whole egg for many custards and sauces, producing a richer and more creamy effect, since the yolk of egg contains considerable oil.
Eggs in doughs may better be studied here with other qualities of eggs rather than later with doughs.
Under this head may be included noodles, pop-overs, Yorkshire pudding, cream puffs, eclairs, timbale cases, fritters of many varieties, as well as sponge and angel cakes and macaroons.
From a study of these distinctly egg doughs we may see why eggs are added to muffins, puddings, etc.
These may be divided into three classes: (1) When the egg is used merely to stick flour together, such as noodles and timbale cases.. (2) When the cake resulting is to be hollow like popovers and puffs, then the egg is beaten with the other ingredients. (3) Where a spongy texture is desired, the eggs are separated and beaten separately.
For such mixtures as the first class lightness is not essential, is really undesirable; hence, the eggs are beaten only enough to blend yolk and white, and not to mix air with them. In noodles, which are a kind of egg macaroni, the egg supplies liquid as well as aids in sticking the particles of flour together. After a stiff, smooth dough is made, it is rolled much thinner than would be possible if it did not contain egg. Then it is cut in strips or fancy shapes and may be cooked at once or dried and used like macaroni.
The timbale cases are made from a thin batter, in which, to egg and flour, milk and small quantities of fat and sugar are added, and the whole beaten together until smooth. If the batter is then allowed to stand until the air bubbles escape, the timbale cases will have fewer holes in them. The hot timbale iron is then dipped into the batter and the coating adher ing is fried until crisp.
The second class should be hollow, and to secure this result the eggs are beaten without separating yolk and white, or better still, are dropped in with the other ingredients and all beaten together.
Popovers are the result of a very thin batter, usually one cup each of flour and milk, one egg, and a little salt. This is beaten thoroughly together with a Dover beater, poured quickly into greased cups, iron or earthen, and baked until thoroughly done. Yorkshire pudding is a similar combination.
Cream puffs have a cooked foundation of water, butter and flour; to this when cool the eggs are added and beaten into it one by one. Because of the scalding of the flour this is a stiff mixture and will keep its shape when dropped on flat pans, and will puff while baking. The same mixture, fried in deep fat, produces a hollow fritter which may be filled like a cream puff.
For the third class of egg doughs and for meringues and puffy omelets, the whites of eggs are beaten by themselves and mixed with special care into the other ingredients that none of the air which has been tangled may be lost. This air expands when ced, producing the delicate lightness of the meringue, or sponge, or angel cake.
The use of a whisk on a platter is the best way of quickly converting the slippery egg. white into a frothy, flaky mass, so firm and dry that it may be turned upside down without slipping from the platter.
Egg beaters are not absolutely essential, for the work may be done with a fork in time. The whisks are best for beating whites alone - those with cog wheels for the whole egg or for beating batters.
Pop Overs - an Example Dough Raised by the Expansion of Air
When yolk and white are mixed, it is impossible to beat in as much air as into the white alone, probably because of the oil contained in the yolk. Even a very little of the yolk will prevent the whites from becoming a stiff froth.
Popovers, meringues, and sponge cake, like other articles containing large proportions of egg, require long cooking at moderate heat. When taken from the oven too soon they shrivel out of shape.
It is not wise to make cheap cakes and try to make baking powder take the place of eggs in making the mass light. When eggs are cheap, make good cakes and custards, but when they are high in price, depend upon desserts where they are not required.