Whisks are all the rage these days, or so you’d think from the vast array on the market.
Stores as diverse as Target and Williams-Sonoma offer a dazzling selection of whisks: Long, narrow ones; folding ones; bouncy ones; flat ones; coiled ones.
There’s a whisk for every task in the kitchen.
"People need different ones for different jobs, depending on the size of pan or bowl you’re working in and the job your doing," says Helen Epple of Sparrow Hawk, a culinary store in Colorado Springs, Colo.
According to Alton Brown, author of "Alton Brown’s Gear For Your Kitchen," the first whisks were nothing more than a bundle of twigs gathered together like a straw broom.
How easy life would be if that were still the only whisk around. But like everything else, this handy little gadget entered the era of specialization.
To make things a little easier, Brown has grouped whisks into three categories: The roux or flat whisk; the French or sauce whisk; and the balloon whisk.
Within these categories are many shapes and materials from which to select, and that’s where the confusion develops. If you really want to know which device is best for, say, making a smooth sauce or emulsifying a vinaigrette, it’s time to meet the whisk in its many forms:
Balloon whisk: This is what you want for whipping egg whites and heavy cream. It’s a large, bulbous, pliant utensil with nine or more flexible wires formed into a shape like a hot-air balloon. This provides a greater surface area to incorporate air into ingredients that you want to make fluffy and stiff. A newer version on the market has a small ball trapped in the middle of the whisk — presumably to create even more surface area and faster work of making mixtures fluffy.
Working on a mixture that will be cooked in a nonstick pan? Select a balloon whisk that has stainless steel wires, covered with colorful silicone, that are heat resistant to 750 degrees and won’t scratch cookware surfaces.
To increase surface area for added loft in egg whites, reach for a balloon whisk with a cagelike ball with a metal ball inside the cage. While the large balloon whisks up the egg whites, the balls inside the whisk are working on the egg whites inside the wires.
French or sauce whisk: This is the one for working with heavier liquids. It’s made of nine fairly stiff wires with a more narrow shape. It’s stouter than the balloon whisk and will not incorporate as much air into mixtures. This would be a good choice for making a vinaigrette or omelet.
Roux or flat whisk: These have flat looping wires that are flexible enough to work flour into melted butter until the mixture is thick and smooth. Some of these are made with silicone coverings that can withstand temperatures up to 750 degrees and won’t scratch pans.
Within the speciality whisk department, a few are gaining popularity.
Ball whisk: This is similar to conventional balloon whisks. Individual wires are topped with weighted balls that work at any angle and into corners and bottom of bowls. They can be used for delicate sauces. Costs $12.99 at Sparrow Hawk.
Spring whisk: This is a smaller version of a balloon whisk, has an up-and-down action that makes it astonishingly efficient at whipping volume into egg whites and cream. Use one when you need a small amount of whipped cream to garnish a dessert, to whip a single egg white, to mix scrambled eggs or crepe batters, or to beat an egg glaze in a cup. Costs $11.95 at www.cooking.com.
Heart spring whisk: This is a type of flat whisk that flattens so it glides across pan bottoms. The heart-shaped head allows the whisk to reach into corners and along edges. A hinged handle makes the whisk especially easy to maneuver. Use it to deglaze, to make gravy in roasting pans, to whisk roux and white sauces, and to heat milk and soup without scalding. Costs $12.95 at www.cooking.com.
Folding whisk: This member of the balloon whisk family is perfect if you don’t have space to store a balloon whisk. The whisk flattens for easy storage in a drawer or hangs flat against a wall. Springy, thin wires beat and whip everything from egg whites to whipping cream. Costs $13.95 at
Palm spring whisk: This is a smaller version of the French whisk and has a compact head of six coil-wrapped branches. It can be used to make salad dressings, vinaigrettes and homemade mayonnaise. Costs $17.99 at Sparrow Hawk.