Baking 101: What’s In A Whisk?
We know all there is to know about whisks, right? They’re bulbous and handy, the don’t play well in the utensil drawer without getting squished to misshapen or tangling up with the can opener. They make whipped cream if we’re feeling strong-armed, sift flour if we’re feeling lazy, and make the heck out of some pancake batter on very fine Saturday mornings.
What you might not know is that there are several different types of whisks. A whisk for just about every kitchen task from sifting flour to making roux. There is a big difference between a French whisk and a ball whisk and I want you to have that knowledge. Kitchen knowledge is kitchen confidence.
If you’ve spent any time working as a baker or pastry person in a professional kitchen you know.. you know that that the chefs like to steal the pastry departments whisks and spatulas. It’s because we have the good whisk and the good spatulas that don’t smell like onions. If you’ve ever been looking for your French whisk and found a cook whisking his soup with it you may also know what pure rage feels like. It’s real. It’s why we steal their knifes and they deserve it (mostly because they just have the good knives).
Now. Onto the whisks, though not free of judgement and opinions.
There are all sorts from silicone to wire to wooden. Today we’re talking about wire whisks because I find them the most useful for hot and cold tasks and enduring kitchen life.
Spring Whisks are made up of a single wire that loops around, creating a circular coil. It’s springy, as the name implies, and is reminiscent of jumping up and down on your mom’s mattress when she wasn’t home. This whisk doesn’t require the usual wrist flip, round-the-bowl action that most other whisks require. Rather, a spring whisk is pumped up and down in a liquid to mix and emulsify. You’ve been doing it wrong all these years? I get it. Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. These whisks are best for liquids, deep liquids, that need emulsifying. Not so great if you’re trying to turn egg whites into something voluminous.
A Spiral Whisk is a treat-yourself kitchen tool. Say you’re at the kitchen supply store and you see the spiral whisk and the flat pan whisk. The spiral whisk is yours if you want to splurge, as you’re likely make the best rouxes in town. Their coiled wire and flattened head make whisking all along the surface and sides of a pan a delight. A delight, I tell you!
A good while back we asked the very important baking question: Do I really have to sift this flour? The answer was no… but really, yes you should. Questions, prayers, concerns answered with the Sifter Whisk. Built to aerate and combine big bowls of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. No more sifting box. This is a small though tremendous victory.
A French Whisk is a staple in the kitchen. Made of wires that cross and overlap and meet at separate point in a handle. The French whisk looks a lot like its balloon whisk cousin but is more narrow in shape. This whisk can do just about anything. I like them for whisking custards smooth and scraping around the sides of the pan while making a pudding.
I felt like there was no way to successfully make a lump free pan gravy before I met the Flat Pan Whisk. Typically made up of four wires that lay flat and meet at the handle. The angle allows the user to quickly work flour into a pan of fat without contorting their wrist or standing on their head.
A Dough Whisk is on the obtuse side of whisks for me. They’re loopy shaped (definitely (not) a technical term) and sturdy. While the whisk an be used to bring together yeasted doughs like a pizza dough, according to King Arthur Flour (kitchen giants), these whisks are best to lightly mix things like muffin batters, pancake batters, and fruit pie fillings by incorporating without overworking the gluten or breaking the fruit.
Balloon Whisks are a popular, widely available whisk. I think of these gems as a kitchen staple. Wire whisks are typically eight or more metal wires that meet at a point or center and are attached at separate points to a metal handle. Balloon whisks can be subtle in their balloonish nature, or absurdly large. For the home cook I suggest a subtle balloon shape and a medium whisk, making for a whisk that is versatile enough to easily aerate and whisk cream and eggs to soft peaks and batters to smooth.
Ball Whisks are wiry and stiff. Like when you see someone coming to shove you over (which I hope doesn’t happen often) and you stiffen your body in preparation and resistance. Ball whisks aren’t my favorite. I’m always left wondering if they working, why they’re so inflexible, and if my French whisk is clean in the dishwasher. If you fancy yourself a Ball Whisk enthusiast they’re great for quickly whipping up egg whites and they’re easy to clean.
I know I know… enough wire talk. What is the ONE whisk you should have in your kitchen that will get you through sweet and savory adventures? A moderately stiff Balloon Whisk is a great investment… and also a roux whisk if you live south of the Mason Dixon (which is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve typed in a long time).
For more in the Baking 101 Series, see also:
Baking 101: Secrets of a Home Baker
Baking 101: Which Rolling Pin is Best
Baking 101: My Favorite Vegan Egg Substitutes