Eggs have been part of spring celebrations for thousands of years, presumably as symbols of fertility. You’ll find hard boiled eggs in Passover Seders as well as in many Christian celebrations. In fact, Zorastrians painted eggs as part of their spring equinox celebration Nowruz at least 2500 years ago.
Cooking eggs in the shell involves some guesswork, since you can’t see the result and you can’t measure the internal temperature of the egg like you could a piece of meat. The two problems you want to solve are: how long to cook the eggs and how to peel them. You also want to avoid cracking the eggs while they cook if you want to use them for Easter egg hunts.
Fresh eggs whites have more acidic whites (albumen) than somewhat older ones, and adhere to the shell more tenaciously. Older eggs have a higher pH and do not interact with the shell as strongly and are thus easier to peel.
The other thing you want to avoid is overcooking the eggs so that the egg yolks begin to have a greenish cast. This happens because of a reaction between iron in the yolk and sulfur in the white to form green ferrous sulfide. Such eggs have a more sulfurous taste as well and are rather dry.
Our favorite way to hard cook eggs, is to put them in a pan of water and slowly raise it to just under a boil. Then you turn off the heat and cover the pan for a few minutes.
But another approach was recently suggested on Facebook by “Michele, your Pampered Chef Lady.” The Pampered Chef is a multi-level marketing company that sells kitchen products through house parties, apparently quite successfully. Michele is one of their experienced representatives.
Her approach is to place eggs on top of a mini-muffin tin and bake them at 325º F for 30 minutes. Then you cool the eggs in an ice bath and peel them. Her claim is that they peel easily and cook perfectly.
By comparison our approach is
1. Place eggs in an enameled or ceramic pan and cover with water at room temperature.
2. Bring the water to about 190º F. The water should be bubbling but not yet at a rolling boil.
3. Cover and turn off the heat.
4. After 10 minutes, plunge the eggs into very cold water for at least 5 minutes. This should loosen the shell so they peel easily.
We compared these two methods, cooking two eggs each way, and chilling them in cold tap water for 10 minutes.
The result is shown in the photos. They deep orange yolks came from the boiled eggs and the yellow ones from the baked eggs. The boiled eggs were infinitely superior, with tender whites and yolks, while the baked eggs were tough and dry. Further, the baked eggs actually had scorch marks on the white where they had rested on the pan, and a bit of a scorched taste in that area as well.
The one advantage of the baked eggs was that they peeled much more easily. Chemically, it is not clear why this occurs but experimentally it was certainly true. On the other hand, the eggs were overcooked and had scorched spots on them.
We also tried to improve on the baked egg approach by cooking one for 15 and for 20 minutes. At 15 minutes, the yolk was still too soft, but at 20 minutes, the white was tender and the yolk more orange and softer, but still kind of dry. It was also still scorched in two spots. And, one of the two eggs cracked a bit and neither peeled that easily. So we really can’t recommend baking eggs: cooking them in water at 190-195 is far more successful.
However, be sure to start with the water at room temperature, rather than plunging cold eggs into boiling water, as this is much more likely to lead to cracking.