This post is all about how to temper eggs. I’ll teach you how to do it, and maybe even more importantly, why we temper eggs in the first place. If you’re here for the first time, you may also be interested in reading about the function of eggs in baking.
This post is part of my Fundamental Friday series where I explain baking and cooking techniques and/or answer baking and cooking questions. For ease of browsing you can find all the Fundamental Friday posts in one place. Thank you for visiting!

Close up shot of two crème brulees in ramekins with caramelized sugar on top.

The Question

Reader Beth asked me to tackle tempering eggs, as the prospect of adding hot liquid to cold eggs can strike terror into the hearts of even experienced cooks. Beth, I accept your challenge. You didn’t have to smack me with that glove, but whatever.


There are a couple of meanings for the word temper in the pastry kitchen.

One is for chocolate, and it describes the process of heating, cooling, and reheating chocolate so that all of the different fats in cocoa butter (which all have slightly different melting points) behave themselves and set properly, giving you a nice, shiny end product with a good snap.

Pastry Chef Online Participates in Affiliate Programs. If you make a purchase through one of my links, I may earn a small commission. For more information click to read my disclosure policy

The other, and the one we will concern ourselves with today is this “to slowly heat up eggs so that they don’t curdle.”

More completely, What’s Cooking America provides the following definition: “To slowly bring up the temperature of a cold or room temperature ingredient by adding small amounts of a hot or boiling liquid.  

Adding the hot liquid gradually prevents the cool ingredient (such as eggs) from cooking or setting.  The tempered mixture can then be added back to hot liquid for further cooking.  This process is used most in making pastry cream and the like.”

Reasons to Temper

Eggs are rather finicky creatures.

They are also very necessary in the pastry kitchen for all sorts of reasons–thickening, structure, leavening, emulsifying, etc. But sometimes, they don’t want to play nicely. What’s their problem? Eggs are very temperature sensitive.

Their proteins, which are largely found in the whites (albumin), begin to coagulate, or cook, or denature, at about 140F. The yolks (vitellus!) start to set up at a somewhat higher temperature, around 150-155F. Eggs will be all cooked–whites and yolks–by about 160 degrees, F.

Eggs enjoy being cooked slowly. That’s why they are quite happy in a water bath, so they never have to be above 212F, thankyouverymuch.

If you raise the temperature slowly and steadily, the proteins will set up all smooth and happy. If, however, you blast them with crazy high heat, the proteins will set up so tightly that they will squeeze out all the liquid and you will end with a pan full of rubbery scrambled eggs sitting in a pool of sad, cloudy water.

This is not what we are going for.

LIke the frog that happily sits in water as it is slowly warmed up but will leap out if tossed into boiling water (that story scarred me for life, but I just had to reference it because it’s so true).

So, when you want to add your finicky eggs (the ones that like to coagulate slowly at low temperatures) to a near-boiling pot of milk, cream, and sugar (and maybe some starch) so you can make pudding, ice cream or Something Else Yummy, you have to think slow and steady.

And tempering lets us raise the heat slowly and steadily.

How To Temper Eggs, in a Nutshell

Here are the Rules for Tempering.

  1. Pour a little of the boiling/hot liquid into the cold eggs while whisking madly.
  2. Pour the warmed eggs back into the pot.

That’s pretty much it, in broad strokes, but it can still be a little bit daunting.

I know you have Questions.

Tempering Q & A

How can I whisk madly and pour at the same time?

I used to have the same question. My wrists aren’t strong enough to hold a huge pan of boiling dairy in one hand and whisk with the other. And that, friends, is when I had a Light Bulb Moment. How about using a ladle?! There you go–dip in one small ladle of hot liquid at a time while whisking madly with the other hand. No ladle? Use a 1/4 cup measure or something.

How do I keep my bowl from spinning around if I can’t hold it still?

Okay, you have four options here.

Option 1 is to whisk faster than the bowl spins. Not very practical, I admit.
Option 2 is to get a bowl that has some sort of rubberized bottom. They make those. They sell them for kind of a lot.
Option 3 is to get some of that puffy stuff for lining china cabinets that comes on rolls next to the contact paper at the store. Just cut a square of it and set your bowl on it.
Option 4 is actually my favorite.

Take a kitchen towel, get it wet, wring it out and then make a little nest for your bowl to sit in.

Just form the towel into a circle that’s a little smaller than the bottom of your bowl, and put it on your counter next to the stove (or wherever you’re tempering your eggs). Then snuggle the bowl down inside its little nest. Now it won’t go anywhere. And if you happen to get a little overzealous with your whisking, whatever whisks out of the bowl will land on the towel. Yay!

How much of the hot stuff do I need to add to my eggs before they will cooperate?

How much hot liquid you need to add depends on how many eggs you have. That is not a cop out; I’m not done yet.

You know that you want the eggs to be hot, and you know you have to do it slowly. Here’s what I do. If I have say, 4 eggs, that’s maybe 2/3 cup by volume.

I’d probably start by adding an ounce or so of the hot liquid (2 Tablespoons, give or take), whisking the whole time. Then, I’d add a little more and a little more, feeling the side of the bowl.

Once the eggs are decidedly hot, I’d pour them all into the pot. With the heat turned off, and whisking all the while. I honestly never have measured how much hot liquid I add to my eggs. If I had to guess, I’d say probably about twice as much as the amount of egg. And no, I don’t always add all of the hot liquid to the eggs–once my eggs are hot, in they go. Not just warm. Hot.

Do I have to add all the hot liquid to the eggs?

No you don’t. You only need enough to make your eggs hot. Once they’re hot, it’s safe to pour them back into the pot with the rest of the hot liquid. Just be sure to keep whisking while you do this.

Why I Don’t Stress Over Tempering

Tempering is a means of getting something (eggs) from point A to point B (from cold to hot) slowly and steadily. Tempering is a technique, not a scientific formula, which is why there’s no definitive answer for “how much hot liquid do I need to add to the eggs?

Pro Tips

To help take out some “added insurance” while tempering, here are some things you can do to make the process even more foolproof:

  • Add a portion of your sugar to the eggs. I don’t care if the recipe doesn’t tell you to–it’s okay. I promise. Whisk the sugar and eggs together very well until they’re nice and creamy. I’m sure you’ve heard that sugar can start to cook your eggs. This is chemically a true statement, so make sure that you really whisk the two together and then don’t leave them just sitting there for too long.

    I always whisk at least a few times every minute or so while I’m waiting for my dairy to heat up enough. Of course, you could always wait until your dairy is hot before you whisk the two together.

    Adding the room temperature sugar will raise the temperature of your eggs slightly, which is a good thing. The sugar will also help to get in the way of all those proteins and keep them from bumping into each other and coagulating too readily.
  • Make sure your eggs aren’t refrigerator cold. Remember, eggs like a slow ride, so take them out of the fridge at least half an hour before you’re going to use them to give them a chance to warm up a bit. You can call this a pre-temper, if you want. But you don’t have to.
  • Strain the finished product (the custard or whatever, once the eggs are tempered) through a fine-mesh strainer. Sometimes, even when you’ve done a Great Job, a little bit of the eggy protein will decide to coagulate anyway, just out of sheer meanness.

    That’s why I always strain. Always. Then, when the strainer comes up empty, I can feel Smarter Than Eggs. (And if the strainer has little bits of egg in it, I can rinse it out quickly and pretend it never happened).

When to Partially Temper

Once your eggs are cooked, they are Cooked.

By that, I mean that, if you are making a product that will need more cooking in the oven in order to set up, such as a flan or creme brulee, the rule is that you have to cool off your tempered egg/dairy mixture quickly, before the eggs completely coagulate.

If you do not. You will find yourself Close to Service with a Very Lot of ramekins of creme brulee that have been in the oven in a water bath for 2 hours and are still just pools of thick liquid covered with a skin. For example. Ahem.

I’m telling you, if you’ve ever had a creme brulee not set up for you in the oven, it’s probably because your initial mixture was way too thick (the eggs were already completely cooked). So, for Items to Be Further Cooked, please have an ice bath ready and waiting so you can cool things down immediately.

As a matter of fact, when I temper hot cream into eggs to make creme brulee, I don’t even put the mixture back over the heat. I temper all the hot cream into the eggs, and then pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher for filling my ramekins.

When to Temper “All the Way”

Items that will be fully cooked on the stovetop, such as pastry cream, ice cream base, and creme Anglaise can and should be cooked more after the tempering.

It probably won’t take long, but continue to stir your tempered egg/dairy mixture over heat until it either boils for a minute (pastry cream, pudding) or until it coats the back of a spoon (creme Anglaise, ice cream base).

The magic number on a thermometer is 180F. And then cool it in an ice bath. Immediately.

I’ve seen a 12 quart batch of ice cream base turn from perfect to scrambled eggs while just sitting there. Nasty old carry-over cooking. Sometimes carry-over is a bad thing, and it certainly is in the case of custards.

The larger your batch, the more danger there is of carry-over cooking. If you’re only dealing with a quart of mixture, it should cool off quickly enough to avoid problems, but any more than that, cool your tempered and fully cooked liquid in an ice bath.

And while you’re here, if you found this post helpful and would like to sign up for my newsletter, here’s how:

Thanks for hanging out and learning about how to temper eggs.

Take care, and have a lovely day!

Join in Today!

My Top 5 Secrets to Becoming Fearless in the Kitchen

Plus weekly new recipes, how-tos, tips, tricks, and everything in between


  1. I have a recipe for gelato, which calls for cream and chocolate to be heated together, then poured over egg yolks and sugar that are being whipped at a high speed, continuing to whip for at least 10 minutes until the yolk mixture is at room temperature. Then folding in whipped cream, before freezing.
    My question is, is that enough heat to cook the yolk enough to be safely eaten.

    1. Hey, Brenda! It would depend on the temperature of the eggs and also of the heated ganache and the relative amount of one to the other. If it’s a lot of ganache that is very hot to maybe 2 yolks, then probably. I’d take the temp as soon as you combine the two (chocolate/cream and yolks). It would need to be 150-155F for the yolks to be considered cooked. The recipe itself sounds really good. I’m surprised it calls for cream because most gelato recipes I’ve read/made call for whole milk. If you have a link, I’d love to see it. It sounds kind of awesome!

    1. Bread pudding is made with a cold custard mixture. No need to temper since the dairy is cold. Unless the recipe calls for heated dairy, you can just dump everything together and whisk it until smooth, pour it over your stale bread, let it soak, and then bake. Enjoy!

  2. This was so helpful and I always enjoy your writing style so much. “Sometimes … a little bit of the eggy protein will decide to coagulate anyway, just out of sheer meanness.” LOLOL!

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful, Jenny! And sometimes I just have to slip in little tidbits like that to amuse myself. But it’s true. Sometimes egg will just Egg even despite our best efforts!

  3. I was baking a tres leches cake which called for 5 eggs. I set the oven temperature, but then didn’t turn oven on! So the cake batter had to sit for about 15 minutes while the oven heated up. The cake turned out super dense and would not soak up the milk mixture. Could having to let the cake batter sit so long effected the texture of the cake? Thanks.

    1. Hey Laurel. Sorry that happened, and I have 100% been in your shoes more than once! Could you send the ingredient list so I can take a look. Specifically, I’d like to know what the leavener/s are. And the mixing method would also be helpful to know. Happy to help troubleshoot with that information!

  4. I’m going to force my sister to read this Clockwork Orange-style so she can actually help rather than harm my next chocolate mousse. But to be fair, this was definitely something that took me a long time to understand, and I have yet to master it. At least I have a excuse to make creme brulee and learn tempering at the same time; win-win if you ask me 🙂

  5. I love your instructions – I’m too busy enjoying myself to be intimidated by the prospect of this technique that, as you conceded, can strike terror into the hearts of the most experienced cooks (of which I am not one). I will have to start practicing if I want to make a pastry creme for the pate a choux!

  6. Really more than I wanted to know, thanks! Oh wait, one question. I may be the one person on the planet who does not know, but, why does sugar cook eggs? Is this a chemical process than can be understood by a non-scientist?

  7. Well, that’s another qualification to add to the certificate – though I guess I don’t really qualify until I actually try to do a little tempering, but at least I got me the guidebook now 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.