Easter eggs and I have a storied history.
As children, my siblings and I colored factory-farmed, hard-boiled, white chicken eggs; left them on the counter for the Easter Bunny to hide; and, had to find and eat all of them before we were allowed to tuck into our jelly beans. Bittersweet for sure.
I once dyed a couple dozen to use as props for the children’s lesson I’d been asked to teach during an Easter service. I’d stored them in the fridge overnight, but as the scripture was read in church that morning, they began to sweat. When I gave them to the kids, they were dripping in Technicolor all over pristine Easter outfits. Oops.
I didn’t realize brown eggs didn’t take well to food coloring the first Easter I lived in England, where white chicken eggs are uncommon based on the breeds raised there. The results were less than vibrant brown eggs disguised as festive with the application of stickers. The next Easter, I moved on to duck eggs, which were twice the price, but had thick, white shells, and therefore, easily decorated.
Easter stories aside, I am finding that I turn, more and more, to duck eggs for eating straight up. They’re bigger and richer than chicken eggs, their yolk to white ratio favors yellow (my preference), and there seems to be more and more on offer locally.
JoAnn Meyers raises endangered breeds of ducks – like Welsh Harlequins, Dutch Hookbills, Khaki Campbells, Indian Runners, Black Cayugas, Magpies and Buffs – at Beau Chemin Preservation Farm, a certified organic operation in Waldoboro. She sells both eggs (the Khaki Campbells are the best layers, averaging one egg per day) and breeding trios to folks looking to raise their own ducks. Meyers says keeping ducks is easier than keeping chickens on a small scale because they are quieter, more comfortable in rain and snow, and have nicer temperaments than chickens. And, contrary to popular believe, they don’t need a backyard pond to survive. Like chickens, they are foragers, but their rounded bills do less damage to gardens and lawns than sharp chicken beaks. That said, ducks’ webbed feet might cause problems for low-lying plants.
Much to my delight, Meyers also says eating more duck eggs could help boost the overall population and, in turn, make the eggs more widely available. It’s a supply and demand kind of proposition.
How will you cook with all of these eventual duck eggs?
Since they are typically 25-30 percent larger, Meyers typically soft boils, hard boils or poaches them for a minute longer than she would a chicken egg. But when she’s scrambling them or using them in an omelet, she shaves off a bit of time because duck eggs turn rubbery if they are scrambled until dry.
Duck eggs taste eggier than factory-farmed eggs, for sure. But if you’ve already switched to farm-fresh chicken eggs, the difference in taste will be negligible.
For baking, the change in taste is undetectable. But substituting one duck egg for one chicken egg in most recipes will make pancakes, waffles and layer and chiffon cakes much fluffier (see recipe) because the higher level of protein in the duck egg means it builds – and holds – a loftier structure when whipped. The bigger yolk also means they are excellent coagulating agents for custards, puddings and ice cream bases. Really, anything a chicken egg can do, a duck egg can arguably do better.
Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special” (Islandport Press, May 2017). Contact her at: [email protected]
DUCK EGG STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB CHIFFON CAKE
Duck eggs are increasingly showing up at farmers markets and health food stores in Maine. You can also find them at some Asian markets here. If you find it’s a too early to get local rhubarb, use an equal amount of last year’s strawberry-rhubarb jam.
FOR STEWED RHUBARB
3 cups chopped red rhubarb
2 cups chopped strawberries
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange
6 duck eggs
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sliced strawberries for garnish, optional
To make the stewed rhubarb, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, 1/2 cup water and orange zest in a medium-sized pan. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, turn down, cover and cook until the rhubarb is soft and stringy, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Carefully separate the duck eggs. Put the whites into a clean, large mixing bowl, and put the yolks into a small bowl. Set aside.
Sift the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and baking powder into a second large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the oil, lightly beaten egg yolks, 1 1/4 cups of the cooled stewed rhubarb and the lemon juice. Whisk until smooth. Set aside.
Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to high and gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar. Continue beating until very stiff peaks form.
Use a rubber spatula to fold 1/3 of the whipped whites into the cake batter until they are completely incorporated. Gingerly fold in the remaining whites. Immediately transfer the batter to an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Bake for 55 to 65 minutes until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Immediately turn the pan upside down and rest on its feet, letting the cake hang free until completely cooled. If your tube pan doesn’t have feet, perch the cake upside down on a bottle to cool.
When the cake is cooled, whip the cream until thick. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla and whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Frost the cake with the cream. Decorate with strawberries, if using. Slice and serve the cake with the remaining stewed rhubarb.