These days, I eat eggs alone. My husband prefers cereal. My daughter, now 13 months old, breaks out in red welts if a scrambled egg touches her cheek. (She mostly eats mozzarella. We’re working on beans.)
But the truth is we all eat eggs alone. Yours over easy, Mom’s scrambled with herbs, Dad’s fried until crispy-edged. Breakfast in many homes is not that different from breakfast in a diner. We each refine our order, zeroing in on the ideal egg, the one that feels most like the best egg we can remember.
My grandmother wasn’t much of a cook, but she made superlative soft-boiled eggs, eggs that convinced me there’s no better breakfast. They’ve become my ultimate comfort food: warm, smooth, and creamy, the white and egg practically melted together, lacking the skin-like surface some poached eggs have.
My grandmother didn’t set a timer to make them: she seemed to feel the beat of it, the same easy routine Saturday after Saturday. I regret that I never watched to see her slip the eggs from their shells; they just arrived to me while I was still in my pajamas, spooned into a heavy stoneware bowl. They had velvety, slow-running yolks and tender whites, a pinch of salt and pepper. Butter was always already liquid in the crags of the toast served alongside them; my grandmother had a good sense of timing.
30 years later, my eggs are fine. But then they’re ruined. A soft boiled egg is no good with its top on, but I always fail at the decapitation.
For a long time, I tried to remove the egg’s narrow crown by rapping it lightly on the countertop the way I thought I remembered my grandmother doing it. The tap-and-turn quickly shifted to crack-smash-and-grimace. I’d proceed to pick shell shards off until I’d cleared a big enough space to stab my spoon in. Eggshell scattered and stuck beneath my fingernails and on the counter, yolk splurted over the shell’s edge. A peaceful stolen moment—breakfast just for me—becomes another anxious task, another mess to clean.
A friend showed me how her father did it, lightly smacking the shell with a butter knife, chipping a shaky circle around the egg’s pointy end. If you have the right flair, enough practice, you can cut a clean-ish ring that way, and remove the egg’s lid to scoop out your breakfast. But it takes a steady hand and some patience.
My kitchen doesn’t have much room for gadgets, but egg-toppers are small, easily hidden from the non-egg-eaters of the family in a drawer with the twine and tape. I start sneakily acquiring them, determined to find a clean-cutter that will make my personal breakfast ritual a little more luxurious. I dream of perfect egg-tops removed seamlessly, without mess or jagged edges. The gadgets come in two formats: squeezers and smackers.
I start with a squeezer, a six-dollar stainless steel contraption that looks like a scissor-like offspring of Mickey Mouse. When the handles are tugged together, a ring of tiny teeth emerges from the center of the device, aimed for the side of your egg. They’re sharp enough to look a little scary, but not, it turns out, sharp enough to break the egg’s boundaries without some effort. One egg shatters completely in my hands, spitting yolk on the kitchen floor. Lacking an egg cup, I balance the next egg in the squat end of my cocktail jigger. The egg topper leaves pinpricks; they don’t do much good.
So I go for the top of the line, investing $14.25 in the Rosle Egg Cracker / Topper. It looks a bit like a plunger, with a spring for a handle that’s meant to be pulled and released. With a loud snap, the dome’s sharp edge does its duty. (More than one snap is usually needed, and the device seems to prefer the broad end of a large egg.) When it works—practice, and careful positioning, makes perfect—the decapitation is masterful, the smooth circle of the egg’s top lifted in the plunger’s dome. I’m left with the perfect package, breakfast for one.
The former managing editor of Serious Eats, Maggie Hoffman is a freelance food and beverage writer based in San Francisco.