Try pullet eggs to make richer pastries and cakes
The first eggs from the chicks that hatched around the first of the year start showing up for sale in April, mostly at farmers markets or small farms selling free-range eggs. You don’t often see them in large commercial markets because they are small, sometimes half the size of extra-large commercial eggs.
These are the pullet eggs. A pullet is a young hen. The name is an anglicized version of French poulette - meaning a hen. In the United Kingdom, pullet eggs were often discarded because they didn’t meet government minimum size limits. That was sheer wastefulness, and the law was changed recently to allow their sale commercially.
In the United States, as any Petaluma chicken farmer would have told you when there were scads of Petaluma chicken farmers, pullet eggs are not only sold, they are sought after by savvy chefs, especially pastry chefs, because of their high quality.
By now, you’re probably hip to pasture-raised eggs for their superior taste and quality. Their yolks are a rich yellow-orange and stand up proudly. The whites are “stiffer,” and they have a creamy consistency when cooked.
Pullet eggs are even better. Because of their small size, the ratio of yolk to white is increased, increasing the flavor of your meal. Pullet eggs are prized by chefs because of their creamy texture and better taste when cooked, because they make superior pastries and cakes and because they are firm and hold together well, making it easier to cook the perfect over-easy egg or omelet.
As the hens age, their eggs get bigger. Depending on the breed, most hens lay pullet eggs for only about four weeks.
The main reason you can’t find pullet eggs in the supermarkets is because of consumer demand for large and extra-large eggs. Recipes tend to call for large eggs, and most people reach for the largest eggs on the shelf. But size doesn’t mean quality. Just the opposite. USDA regulations call for Grade AA and Grade A eggs to have clear whites. But clear whites are often watery and indicate old eggs.
Pullet eggs have a firm, viscous texture; their cloudy whites are caused by dissolved carbon dioxide and indicate freshness. As the egg ages, the carbon dioxide escapes through the pores of the egg and the whites become clear.
When using pullet eggs in recipes, a rule of thumb is to add one additional pullet egg for up to four eggs called for in the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for two eggs, substitute three pullet eggs; if the recipe calls for five eggs, substitute seven pullet eggs.
Ask your egg lady when her pullet eggs will be coming in and make sure you order some in advance.
This recipe seems so simple yet produces a truly superlative cake. Frost it with any icing you choose. A creamy citrus icing is especially nice. You’re only using the whites, so save the yolks for a custard or egg yolk cookies.
Butter Cake with Pullet Egg Whites
Makes two layers
1¼ cups white granulated sugar
½ cup butter at room temperature
2 ¼ cups organic pastry flour
4 level teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon plus one pinch sea salt
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 pullet egg whites
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the sugar to remove lumps. Beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually as you beat it into the butter, until the mixture is very light and creamy.
Sift the pastry flour, then resift it with the baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt.
Add these dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture in three equal parts, along with a third of the cup of milk. Beat until smooth each time you add the dry ingredients and the milk.
Beat the egg whites and pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks, but not until dry. Fold the whites lightly into the batter, then divide into two greased 9-inch cake pans.
Bake the pans for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on racks.
Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and garden writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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