Sometimes, National Days can be a little esoteric, like National Orange Wine Day (Oct.6), or seem like maybe there’s a little bit more to the story, like National Kick Butt Day (Oct. 8), and sometimes they can seem very esoteric with a lot more to the story, like National Moldy Cheese Day or National Pro-Life Cupcake Day (both Oct.9), but a few of them are flat-out good ideas.
Today is one of those. October 10 is National Angel Food Cake Day, and this light and fluffy cake deserves a day of its own because it is a cake like no other.
Angel food cake originated in the United States, probably in southwestern Pennsylvania, where cake molds were made popular by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The cake earned its name in the late 19th century, due to its light, airy quality. It is a food, it is said, that is fit for angels.
Angel food cakes differ structurally from sponge cakes and chiffon cakes, two other light, airy cakes. Sponge cakes use whole eggs. Their leavening comes only from beating the whites of the eggs (no baking powder or soda), and they have little or no butter. Chiffon cakes are also light, but the egg whites are not beaten separately. Chiffon cakes also generally contain oil so they are more tender and moist than sponge cake.
Angel food cakes have no fat and no leavening. Their sky-high lift and rise comes only from beaten egg whites. When it works, it’s a thing of beauty, but the whole thing is a bit fragile, giving homemade angel food its reputation for being persnickety.
As angel food veterans know, you whip egg whites (a lot of egg whites) until they are stiff, and then add cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites. Additional ingredients are then very gently folded into the egg white mixture.
The cake should be baked in an ungreased tube pan which makes a hole in the middle of the cake. The center tube allows the cake batter to rise higher as it clings to all sides of the pan. After baking, the pan is inverted while cooling to prevent the cake from falling in on itself.
So there is science behind every aspect of an angel food cake. Which explains why things so often go horrendously wrong when an angel food neophyte improvises.
Unless you received a full range of housewarming or wedding gifts in the 1950s, it is unlikely you have a dedicated angel food pan. If you were alive in the 1970s or ’80s, it is highly likely you have a Bundt pan. Both are tallish cake pans with a hole in the middle. You may be tempted to use your Bundt pan instead of investing in a new single-use angel food pan.
This is a really, really bad idea. Repeat. A very bad idea, a terrible idea, an amazingly ill-advised idea. Don’t do it.
As you will recall, angel food cake pans are not greased, allowing the cake as it bakes and rises to cling to the pan, and then continue rising up the side. The actual sticking keeps the cake from falling. That’s why angel food cakes always look like about half of the crust peeled off when it came out of the pan. Because it did exactly that.
So with your Bundt pan, you are going to feel compelled to grease the crap out of all those nooks and crannies due to personal experience with them in the past, and your poor angel food cake will never be able to get a grip and climb, thereby ensuring a flat mess. Or you’re going to follow directions and not grease the pan, and the cake will stick to the sides all right. it will stick to each and every one of those nooks and crannies. Good luck ever getting that bad boy out in one piece. Best you can hope for is to make a trifle out of all the broken chunks.
A lot of recipes will advocate weighing the egg whites or using a volume measurement. Do that. Eggs vary tremendously in size. Also, the fresher the egg, the easier the white and yolk separate. This is a good time to have a couple of dozen laying hens in the backyard, or to have a good friend with a couple of dozen laying hens in the back yard. But if you are so lucky, it’s even more important to weigh or measure the egg whites, as the size of your eggs is going to vary even more tremendously.
The eggs must be at room temperature when you whip them up to get maximum volume. But if you’re using eggs that are not super fresh (like store eggs), they’re easier to separate cleanly when they’re cold. Then let them come to room temperature after you’ve separated. This is a good time to search for recipes that use an inordinate amount of egg yolks, of which you now have many. Search under custards and lemon curd as a start. Lemon curd particularly will make a nice sauce for your angel food cake.
When whipping eggs make sure your bowl is clean and cool. Try not to overbeat. Stiff glossy peaks are the key phrase and what to look for in your eggs.
Usually, rather than frosting, angel food cakes are topped with a glaze or a sweet fruit sauce and a swirl of whipped cream. A recipe for a roasted strawberry sauce follows.
Last but not least, angel food cake is low fat, as no fats are used in the recipe, and though there are a lot of eggs, it’s only the egg whites. But diabetics take note, that doesn’t mean there’s no sugar. There is, and a fair amount of it, too. Angel food may be the food of the angels, but as the hospice nurses will tell you, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go today.
Angel Food Cake
This recipe calls for 12 egg whites, and you hope for the best.
1 -3/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup cake flour, sifted
12 egg whites (the closer to room temperature the better)
1/3 cup warm water
1 tsp. orange extract, or extract of your choice
1 -1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor spin sugar about 2 minutes until it is superfine. Sift half of the sugar with the salt and the cake flour, setting the remaining sugar aside.
In a large bowl, use a balloon whisk to thoroughly combine egg whites, water, orange extract, and cream of tartar. After 2 minutes, switch to a hand mixer. Slowly sift the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed. Once you have achieved medium peaks, sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.
Carefully spoon mixture into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 35 minutes before checking for doneness with a wooden skewer. (When inserted halfway between the inner and outer wall, the skewer should come out dry).
Cool upside down on cooling rack for at least an hour before removing from pan.
Angel Food Cake
This recipes gives volume and weigh measurements for primary ingredients, allowing for more precision.
1 -1/4 cup (125 g) sifted cake flour
1 -1/2 cup (300 g) granulated white sugar
1 -1/2 cup (360 g) egg whites at room temperature (from about 12 large eggs)
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Heat oven to 350°F. and locate your angel food cake pan. Do not butter or spray or grease pan in any way. In a large bowl sift together 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar and the sifted cake flour. (this is half of the sugar and all of the flour)
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream of tartar, lemon juice, vanilla and almond extract, and salt and continue to beat until soft peaks form roughly 2-3 minutes. Gradually beat in the remaining 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until glossy stiff peaks form. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove bowl from stand mixer. Sift the flour mixture (1/4 cup at a time) over the egg whites and using a rubber spatula, gently fold (do not stir) the flour into the egg whites.
Pour the batter into the pan and run a metal spatula or knife through the batter to get rid of any air pockets. Smooth the top and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 – 45 minutes. The cake is done when the cake springs back when gently pressed or there are cracks over the top. Immediately upon removing from the oven invert the pan and allow the cake to cool for about 1 1/2 hours.
When completely cool, run an offset spatula or knife around the sides and center tube of the pan to loosen the cake and then remove the cake from the pan. Next, use the offset spatula (or knife) along the bottom and remove. Set cake on cake stand.
Roasted Strawberry Sauce
2 cups (250g) sliced fresh strawberries
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
10 oz. of strawberry spread or jam, jelly preserves
Place sliced strawberries in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle evenly with syrup and sprinkle cinnamon on top. Roast strawberries at 400°F. for 10-12 minutes or until berries are tender and have begun to release their juices.
Place strawberry spread into a medium bowl. Dump roasted strawberries on top of spread and mix together with a fork.
If mixture seems too thick can add up to 1/2 cup warm water.
When ready to serve, pour some sauce (not all) over cake. Cut cake using either a very (very) sharp knife or a serrated knife. Use a ‘saw’ motion and try not to press the cake down as you cut. Place the piece on a plate and drop a dollop of whipped cream on top. Cover with more strawberry sauce.
Lemon Angel Food Cake
2 cups sifted superfine sugar, divided
1 -1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1 -1/2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (10 to 12 eggs)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 -1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine 1/2 cup of sugar with the flour and sift together 4 times. Set aside. Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs make medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar by sprinkling it over the beaten egg whites. Whisk for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Whisk in the vanilla and lemon zest and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute. Sift about 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour by fourths by sifting and folding until it’s all incorporated.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack until cool.
Pineapple Angel Food Dump Cake
If you just can’t be bothered with all the egg separating, special pan buying and tip-toeing around while angel food bakes, here’s a two-ingredient recipe that uses a mix. Mazel tov.
1 (14.5 oz) angel food cake mix
1 (20 oz) can pineapple (crushed in juice)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix cake mix and pineapple together in a large bowl. Pour into lightly greased 13×9 pan. Don’t be surprised when it gets foamy. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until golden and springs back when touched in middle.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.