Folding is the technique of gently mixing one light and airy ingredient (usually egg whites) into another, denser, ingredient (usually a batter) so that the entire conglomeration stays fluffy when cooked.
It’s most often seen in the instructions of recipes for soufflés, chiffon cakes, angel food cakes, or any other dishes where you’re depending on the frothy, air-bubble-filled protein structure of beaten egg whites to give your desserts a light texture and help them rise sky-high.
But you’ll also use it when you need to stave off a heavy, bricklike dessert. The geniuses behind Baked, the Red Hook bakery and cookbook series, request that you first whisk together a gooey, egg-laden chocolate batter and then gently fold the flour and cocoa powder into the eggs so you don’t overbeat the entire thing. Voila! Brownies that remain cakey and moist without turning into a block of greasy fudge.
Folding is simple to master because, for once, this is a technique that doesn’t ask you to rely on speed or infinite precision to make it successful. In fact, this is the cooking equivalent of a tortoise—slow and steady wins the race every time when it comes to folding.
In a large bowl filled with the denser of your two ingredients, spoon about half the lighter ingredient on top. Sink your mixing utensil down into the center of the bowl and pull out to scrape the side of the bowl and fold the batter over on itself in a swooping, scooping motion.
I use a spoonula—the chunky spatula with one curved side and one flat side—to hug the side of the bowl as I swoop and plop the batter into the center of the bowl as I scoop. I also find that turning the bowl slightly as I fold helps the process.
It may take a few minutes to fully incorporate your two ingredients, but the gentle motion is significant (notice I said “gentle” quite a few times in this post?). You don’t want to disturb the air bubbles in your whipped egg whites, if that’s what you’re folding in, or overbeat the entire mixture so it becomes gummy. Folding brings everything just to the point of homogenization, which is where the magic happens when it hits the heat.
Watch the video below for an example of folding ingredients in action:
Now it’s your turn. Try your hand at folding with the following recipe for cocoa-infused waffles. Truthfully, I added the cocoa powder to the batter in the video so my dear readers would be able to see the contrast against the whipped egg whites as the two were folded together, but the recipe thankfully makes a light and crispy, slightly savory waffle in its own right. Serve with your usual breakfast condiments or with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce as an unexpected dessert.
adapted from the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Makes about 10 waffles
- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- span itemprop=”ingredients”>1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
- 3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together the milk, buttermilk, melted butter, and egg yolks in a small bowl, then stir into the dry ingredients until combined into a slightly lumpy batter. Stir the chocolate chips into the batter, if using.
Slowly fold the egg whites into the cocoa batter until well combined—it’s perfectly fine if there are a few chunks of unincorporated egg whites in the bowl.
Heat your waffle iron and cook your waffles according to your appliance’s specifications. For me, that’s 1/4 cup of batter on a piping-hot iron, cooked for about 5 minutes. Your mileage may vary. Serve immediately or freeze, wrapped in foil, to reheat in a toaster oven.