Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chemistry & Beauty: Copper Bowls

I have a new toy coming and I am so excited! I've finally (wo)manned-up and invested in one of those gorgeous copper bowls. Mr. Humble is tolerating the extravagance fairly well, though I fear he will use this purchase to justify his own craving for new speaker stands. Men and their silly toys...

Anyway, for a while now I've resisted the siren's call of the gleaming bowl. I've always justified my reluctance with the idea that copper was high maintenance, had limited uses or was too expensive.

However, since reading about the advantages of copper, coupled with my obsessive quest for the perfect macaron, my resolve was as strong as over-beaten egg whites. (Unforgivably terrible egg joke, I know.)

I decided I needed to test the beneficial properties of copper as part of my Macaron 101: French merigue. After all, in the quest for perfect macarons, I'll do just about anything.

When it comes to egg whites, the bowl you beat them in does make a difference. Allow me to demonstrate the relative 'awesomeness' of bowls when it comes to whipping eggs into a light fluffy meringue:

Want a light fluffy meringue? Then you will want to reach for copper or stainless before plastic or aluminum. Mud is an all around bad choice, unless you're lost in the wilderness and you absolutely need to make some meringues so the woodland creatures don't turn on you.

So why is copper so great? Chemistry!

Unlike all those other bowls, a copper bowl reacts on a molecular level with the egg whites to help form those perfectly divine fluffy whites.

Egg whites are made up primarily of proteins and water, copper contains an ion that migrates from the bowl and reacts with a protein in egg whites, strengthening them. With the addition of the copper ion, the egg white proteins create a more stable foam that is harder to over beat and less likely to unfold.

Whipping egg whites is often likened to blowing up a balloon. For a voluminous meringue you need to beat in the amount of air the proteins can handle. Beat too much air into the whites, the balloon will pop and you need to start over again. Of course, if you're beating tough copper infused whites, you are starting out with a much stronger balloon.

I want tenacious meringues. So there was no question of what I needed to do...

I cracked open my wallet and went shopping.

I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my shiny new Mauviel bowl. Will it stand up to some rigorous testing for the next Macaron 101?

We shall see...


  1. LOL I had to show your chart on the Relative Awesomeness of Bowls to my hubby - we were both laughing heheheh Congrats on the new bowls :-)

  2. I totally understand about those copper bowls--I always wanted a set, but never did get them for the same concerns...did I really need a (expensive, high-maintence) copper bowl for some magnificent souffle I was going to whip up? Perhaps the answer is yes. We'll see.

  3. I grew up in a Copper Mining town in Northern Michigan, that coupled with the fact that my french grandmother had a beautiful set of copper cookware makes me a sucker for anything copper in my kitchen. I too have been eying the copper bowls for a long time. I'll be curious to see if this sends me over the edge...

  4. I've never seen copper bowls. My heart skipped a beat when I saw this post, and now I shall think of nothing else but owning one until I own one. Thanks for sharing this! (And I laughed aloud at the mud bowl idea, though I'm sure my 2-year old would disagree at the ranking. Yep, laughing aloud and heart skipping. Good post.)

  5. I don't know if I would ever need a set of copper mixing bowls, after all their application is basically limited to eggs. I figure one will see me through all my egg beating needs.

    I've decided I should approach a copper bowl the same way I would for any other heirloom-potential kitchen tool. I know that a quality copper beating bowl will give me a life time of use, just like a good dutch oven or well seasoned cast iron skillet.

    Now if only I could use that logic on Mr. Humble so he would agree to the Le Creuset french oven I want...

  6. Whether or not it stands up to the whipping test- that's a really sexy bowl and I want one for my kitchen!

  7. My dad has a very nice copper bowl that he uses for souffles and egg whites. I think he's had it at least 30 years, probably more like 40. It's not as beautiful as the one in the picture, but it's still going strong and I have no doubt that I'll inherit it in the future

  8. Great. Now I want one, too!!! :D

  9. While it is a gorgeous bowl that is totally worth coveting, I still don't buy the argument for getting it hahaha. I think you just want it because it is cute and something new for the kitchen haha. We have all made macarons successfully without the assistance of a copper bowls. Nevertheless, as a lover of all things foodie, I will support you in your new purchase LOL!

  10. You will also need one of these babies when your whipping arm gets tired. Ooh, shiny...

  11. i love the stand the copper bowl rests on!
    best wishes for the fluffiest egg whites...

    recently purchased a le creuset french oven in "flame" & i made osso buco...

    happy holiday!

  12. Ohh this looks beautiful and hope it's just as good in reality as it is in theory ;)

  13. Oh! I completely sympathize with your lust for that glorious copper bowl. The only thing that's really held me back from purchasing one, thus far, has been the expense. Looks like you picked a beauty. It will be interesting to hear about your future meringues, once the coveted receptacle arrives! Loved this post! Wonderful photos, too, as usual!

  14. Potentially dumb question: does the copper ever run out of ions?

  15. Copper is so beautiful! We came thisclose to getting copper for our pots and will once we can afford them in 20 years! Oh, and Martha claims they are a breeze to clean a make beautiful again... just polish them with ketchup! Enjoy your new toy!

  16. I want one!

    Maybe when I'm finished paying for the kitchen. They have this amazing store in Paris that sells these, and I always go in and touch them, look longingly and hope that the proprietor will just say, 'Oh, go on. Have it.'

    He hasn't yet. But he did tell me his life story last time, and it was fascinating!

  17. I finally broke down and purchased a copper bowl after my husband and I found ourselves making this pancake recipe every weekend:

    Since then the bowl has been retired due to a child with an egg allergy. I do have one tip for you, though. The bowl arrives with a protective coating that needs to be scrubbed off before the initial use. Leave the coating intact on the outside of the bowl, so it stays nice and shiny. Plus using lemon juice (and kosher salt) to clean the inside right before use helps activate the ions. But you probably already knew that...

    Enjoy the bowl!

  18. Okay, this is the post that made me subscribe. :-) I saw your sea glass candy a while ago and have dipped in to read a couple of times since then, but now I'm hooked. Geeky scientific cooking, FTW!

  19. Ooooh, where'd you get the STAND for the bowl??? I need that!

  20. Hi Mrs. not so Humble,

    I love your recipy!!!! Thank you so much, well down!!!
    LOve from Netty van Santen from the Netherlands.

  21. If the expense is the only thing stopping you from getting a copper bowl try some antiquing (antiqueing?). I got a full set of copper bowls for less than the cost of one new. It took some time, but so does anything worthwhile (like maccaroons).

    And if you think you don't whip enough egg whites to justify a copper bowl, just wait. Once you have one you will find all the excuses you need to pull it off the wall. Just get a good whisk! If you can get a balloon whisk from Best Manufacturing, those are great. Larger piano whisks (often available at restaurant supply stores) work well too.

  22. Hi Ms. Humble, I started reading your blog for purely french macaron reasons and was linked here! I'm searching online for copper bowls and holy moly are they expensive! Do you think a stainless steel bowl with some copper pennies tossed in (as long as theyre pre 1983 pennies which are 95% copper plus 5% zinc and tin) would accomplish the same as a copper bowl?

  23. Annette,

    That's a good question. Maybe? I don't know if that is a sufficient amount of copper to boost the egg whites.

    While copper bowls are expensive (there is no getting past the cost of the raw materials), you can often find them absurdly cheap second hand. Thrift stores, garage sales and Ebay are all great places to find them on the cheap.

    Copper beating bowls are heirloom kitchen items-- much like cast iron skillets--, provided that they don't have holes punched in them, it doesn't matter how old and tarnished they they are. Just give them a bit of elbow grease to glean them up and you're good to go.

    Why, as of this evening there is a set of three nesting copper beating bowls going on Ebay for $11.


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