In September 2012 I wrote a post entitled Top Ten….or is it Eleven? in which I described the top 10 (actually 11) items I can’t live without in the kitchen. Whisks made the list. In fact, they were the first thing I wrote about (the list was in random order, not order of importance to me).
So I thought I’d give you a little more information on whisks and the different types of whisks.
Whisks are typically made of stainless steel wire; however they can be made of wood or bamboo and in recent years, we’ve seen the introduction of silicone whisks. Silicone is used to prevent scratching the non-stick coating on pots and pans and is also available in an array of colors.
Whisks are categorized in two ways – either by the number of wires or by shape; but I can tell you as a home cook, the only categorization that matters to me is shape. I’ve NEVER looked at a whisk and said, “nope, not that one, it has too many/too few wires.”
As I was writing this post, I did some ‘googling’ and found an interesting, short video demonstrating the process of making wire whisks. If you’re nerdy like me, you’ll take a few minutes to watch!
So let’s talk shape. How do you know which whisk will perform which task in the kitchen? Experience is the best teacher – take several whisks for a test drive. Use different shapes to whip egg whites or make a sauce and see what happens and which gives the best results. But if you’re not inclined to spend the day testing whisks or you don’t own or want to buy several different types until you know what you need; then read on…
Types of Whisks:
- Balloon Whisk / Piano Whisk
These whisks have a very round or tear drop shape (they look kind of like an inflated hot air balloon, hence the name). Multiple flexible wires are connected at both ends to a handle (as shown in the video). A piano whisk is similar in shape, but generally has fewer wires than a balloon whisk. These whisks are great for whipping cream and/or egg whites– for getting air into liquids.
- French Whisk
Like a balloon whisk, the French whisk has multiple flexible wires connected at both ends to a handle; however French whisks are less rounded and have a more elongated shape. It’s as if a balloon whisk went on a diet! They are good for mixing sauces and/or whipping egg whites if you whisk quickly enough. French whisks are good all purpose whisks.
- Sauce Whisk / Roux Whisk / Flat Whisk / Gravy Whisk
These whisks with multiple names generally have 3 or 4 wires bent into a U shape, attached at both ends to a handle. They differ from balloon whisks or French whisks because they are not rounded or bulbous, but are flat – imagine you put something heavy on top of a balloon whisk for a while and all the wires got smushed (a technical term) to one side. Its flat design allows you to stir at the bottom of a wide, shallow pan. Sauce whisks are great for deglazing a pan – scraping up brown bits. The flat shape does not allow you to whip as much air into things as a balloon or French whisk; therefore you get a smoother/denser texture.
- Ball Whisk
The ball whisk has multiple straight wires attached to a handle at one end only. On the free end of each wire, the opposite end from the handle, is a stainless steel ball. Imagine a French whisk or balloon whisk with the rounded end cut off. Ball whisks are good for getting into the “corners” of a pot or pan.
- Vinaigrette Whisk
Vinaigrette whisks are made from two wires – one shaped like a ‘U’ and the other wrapped in a coil around the first (much like the interior of a ballpoint pen). They are good for mixing a small amount of ingredients and for emulsifying vinaigrette. You wouldn’t choose a vinaigrette whisk to incorporate air into something.
- Twirl Whisk
Twirl whisks are made from a continuous wire shaped like a coil on a handle. Think of a snake coming out of a basket to the music of a snake-charmer. They are good for mixing and foaming beverages – like cappuccino or hot cocoa – and can be used with two different motions – either by pressing up and down vertically like a churn or by twirling (hence the name) the handle between both hands.
You can visit Williams-Sonoma online for a photo of a twirl whisk.
- Dough Whisk
Dough whisks are one wire coiled into an uneven spiral shape. Think of an off-center bright rainbow lollipop. The dough whisk normally has a wooden handle and is used for mixing stiff doughs.
- Other Whisks
There are other specialty whisks available and more are being introduced into the culinary market all the time, such as butterfly whisks, tornado whisks, ball-in-ball or cage whisks, among others.
Perhaps the next most important factor behind shape, when it comes to whisking, is speed – the speed at which you whisk the ingredients. Using a whisk at a slow speed produces a dense, smooth finished product. That’s because you are not incorporating as much air into the ingredients. Slow is how you want to approach sauces. Using a whisk at a fast speed produces a lighter, airier finished product because you are able to get a lot of air into liquids. Fast is how you want to whip egg whites for a soufflé or cream for whipped cream – getting more air into the liquids gives you a puffy soufflé or a whipped cream that’s as fluffy as clouds.
I’m sure there is much more to be said about whisks – particularly by classically trained chefs – but for the home cook, I think this covers it. You can get whisked away by the details if you’re not careful!
I’d love to know…what’s your favorite type of whisk?
Special thanks to Sue at The Kitchen Shoppe for allowing me to photograph the many whisks that they sell!!!