Before last week, I’d never eaten a duck egg. Chicken eggs were all I knew.
But as my job offers me opportunities to meet lots of new people and try new things, I had the chance recently to learn about the benefits of duck eggs from the Risser family, owners of Henrico County-based Duck Duck Eggs, which raises ducks and sells their eggs commercially. I met their ducks — lovely birds, all 7,000 of them — and saw the egg process from start to finish, and all along the way, heard about how great duck eggs are for baking.
So, I did a little of my own research in my kitchen one night last week with one of my favorite recipes, Alice Medrich’s one-bowl chocolate cake from her “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” cookbook. It’s quick and easy and it’s never failed me, so with that recipe I made two batches of cupcakes: one with regular chicken eggs, the other with duck eggs.
First, a few observations. Duck eggs tend to be larger than chicken eggs, in some cases much larger. I bought a four-pack of the Duck Duck Eggs mixed eggs at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market (not the jumbo size, which was the other option). The mixed eggs were just a little larger than my large chicken eggs, so I used the same number of eggs in both recipes.
The shells are thicker, and because of that, duck eggs stay fresher longer. They’re also a bit harder to crack open, which is a good thing when you’re heavy-handed with your ingredients.
Pricewise, duck eggs are more expensive. My four eggs were $2.99 — higher than the current rate for a dozen large chicken eggs, which is often less than a dollar at most grocery stores these days. The jumbo size cost $3.99 for four.
From a nutritional standpoint, duck eggs have larger yolks and roughly about three times the cholesterol of chicken eggs. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids and have more albumen (the whites) than their chicken counterparts, which means more protein.
Also, some people who are allergic to chicken eggs may actually be able to eat duck eggs.
In short, duck eggs are richer, period. It’s why chefs use them to crown salty bacon cheeseburgers or nestle them among leafy green salads when they need something sublime to balance those other flavors and textures.
But, back to the baked goods.
Here’s the deal: I made the cupcakes with chicken eggs first, and they came out as expected. Upon taking the cupcakes with the duck eggs out of the oven, the difference was apparent right away: They rose noticeably higher and were a touch more springy. It seems the claim that the added protein in the abundant whites of duck eggs helps baked goods rise was right on the money.
Once cooled, sampling ensued. Fluffier in general, the duck egg cupcakes seemed to have a more pronounced chocolate-y flavor. Even the next day, they were lighter and more moist than the others and definitely not as dense.
And, surprisingly, both at home and in the office, blind taste tests produced the same results: Each taster described the duck egg cupcakes as “lighter” and “fluffier,” and, in most cases, said the flavor was better.
Duck eggs, it seems, beat out chicken eggs when used for baking, at least in my completely unscientific but highly scrutinized experiment. I’d certainly try them again in cookies, pound cakes and pastries.
But I didn’t stop there.
The following morning, I made two eggs over-easy: one duck and one chicken. Because there’s less water in the whites of duck eggs, they tend to cook very quickly, and, as best I can describe their consistency, the whites seemed a bit rubbery. The yolk was very rich, though, and I detected the slightest bit of gaminess compared with the mild flavor of a chicken egg yolk.
Scrambled with cheese and spices or used in an omelet with bacon or turkey sausage and veggies, that flavor wouldn’t register. But if you’re the type who prefers plain ol’ fried eggs, I’d suggest sticking with chicken eggs.
Again, these things are all a matter of taste, literally. For baking, however, duck eggs are all they’re cracked up to be.
— Adapted from Alice Medrich’s “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts”