Cooking is fundamental: What are peaks?

Next time you're whipping eggs up, take note of these different kinds of peaks.

If you have ever made a soufflé or meringue, you have encountered recipes that call for soft, medium or even stiff peaks. What exactly does this all mean? 

When you whip cream or eggs, they begin to get thicker and more voluminous from air bubbles getting trapped inside of the mixture. When whipping cream or egg whites, pull the whisk up from the mixture, and check the shape and how long it holds. Here are the definitions of the peaks to show you if you're at the right stage.

Soft peaks: At this point, when you pull your beaters out of the bowl, you should have a little mountain that looks soft and barely holds its shape. If there are any lines in the peak, they should almost immediately begin to blend back into the mound. Additionally, the tip of the little mountain should fall over on itself and start to blend with the mound. 

Medium peaks: Whipped for a little longer, these peaks will hold their shape at the base and you will see a few lines left behind from the beaters. Additionally, the very top of the peak should look like a Dairy Queen swirl on an ice cream cone. It should fall over, but still hold some height. 

Stiff peaks: You will know when you have reached stiff peaks when you pull your beaters out, and there is a sharp tip on top of a defined cone in your mixture. The cream or whites will also be much shinier than the previous two. Do not attempt to keep going after this point. Egg whites whipped far beyond stiff peaks will be dry and clumpy, and cream that's whipped too long will separate into butter and buttermilk.