Angel Food Cake has always reminded me of my Mom. Why? Because it’s her favorite. Because it’s something that makes her happy. Because it’s something seemingly delicate yet strong.
Her mother made it for her birthday every year with chocolate sauce. If I happen to be with Mom on her birthday, I always make Angel Food Cake.
I also like it because it’s delicious. It tastes a little like toasted marshmallows to me.
Some food historians believe that the Angel Food Cakes were likely baked by African-American slaves in the early to mid 19th Century, since making this cake required a strong beating arm and lots of labor to whip the air into the whites. Angel Food Cakes are also a traditional African-American favorite at post-funeral meals.
In “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book, and Companion for Frugal and Economical“, published in 1871, has a recipe for “Snow-Drift Cake”. A similar recipe appears in 1881 in a book by Abby Fisher, the first Black American woman and a former slave from Mobile, Alabama, who recorded her recipes in a cookbook called “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.”. Her book has a cake recipe named “Silver Cake”.
“The Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book” by Mrs.D.A. Lincoln published in 1884 had a recipe for “Angel Cake” mentioning the name for the first time. In Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 updated version of the “Boston Cooking School Cook Book“, she uses the same recipe and calls the cake “Angel Food Cake.”
(some historical information from Wikipedia)
There is the school of thought that Angel Food Cake was so named because of it’s lighter color and texture. It is suitable for the Angels to eat. On the other hand, it’s slightly more decadent counterpart, Devil’s Food Cake, is darker, richer, and is considered more sinful. Exactly what the Devil would eat.
It reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s statement, ” Angel food cake is the white cake, but the devils food cake is chocolate. When are we going to wake up as a people and end the lie that white is better than black?”
I just had to add that. It’s always stuck with me.
Once again, now to the recipe:
Now, to be honest, an Angel Food Cake isn’t for the cake-making novice. There are so many things that could, can, and will go wrong if you don’t have the confidence and expertise when you bake.
Hell, things could still go wrong even if you do have plenty of baking experience. I can tell you that with all sincerity.
1/2 c. 10x, or Confectioners, sugar
1 c. Pastry Flour (I admittedly use bleached in this recipe. Just this recipe)
10 ea. Egg Whites (be sure they’re room temperature)
1/2 tsp. Cream of Tartar
2 tsp. Vanilla or Almond Extract (be sure to get pure extract, not imitation flavoring)
1 c. Granulated Sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Sift together the 10x sugar and the pastry flour. Set aside.
When you measure out the pastry flour and 10x sugar, be sure to use the scoop & sweep method of measuring (see “Baking the Perfect Biscuit”, 12/18/11). Otherwise, your cake runs the risk of having too much dry ingredient weight and you’ll deflate the whites and end up with a heavy cake that won’t rise.
2. In a large mixer bowl, pour in the egg whites.
There is a kind of art to separating eggs. When you want egg whites, that’s all you want, egg whites. Any additional fat (i.e. yolks) in the whites will keep them from potentially reaching full volume. Hence the 3-bowl method for separating egg whites.
You break the egg into one bowl. If the yolk isn’t broken, you carefully lift it out of the bowl and place it in the second bowl. Then you pour the white into the third bowl. If the yolk breaks, you pour the whole egg in with the yolks. If there is any yolk left in the first bowl, wash it out or get a clean bowl.
By using this method, you’ll always have pure egg whites ready for your cake.
Cover the yolks and use them for something else. Like a very rich omelet or lemon curd.
3. The next thing you want are for your egg whites to be at room temperature. This allows for the proteins in the whites to relax and allow the strands to be broken so they will incorporate more air as you whip them.
Add the whip attachment to your mixer (or break out your hand mixer). Add the cream of tartar to the whites (this helps with the stabilization of the whites as you whip them). Begin beating the whites at medium-high speed until they form soft peaks. Add the extract.
4. Continue whisking the whites until they form stiff peaks.
When you get to still peak stage, you want to be sure not to over beat the whites. If you do that, the whites will begin to separate. The whites will dry and the liquid will seep out. There is no saving it. You have to start over if this happens.
5. Lower the speed of the mixer to low and slowly pour in the granulated sugar. You don’t want to put all the sugar in at once because you want to give the whites a chance to dissolve the sugar and mix in more evenly.
Raise the speed again to medium-high and continue beating the whites until they become stiff and shiny. Again, take care not to over beat.
6. Carefully turn the whites out into a large, shallow bowl.
Sift the reserved flour and 10x sugar mixture in 1/3rd’s over the whites and fold the dry ingredients into the whites.
Folding is a method of mixing that is much more gentle (if done properly) that will keep the deflation of the whites to a minimum. Because the millions of air bubbles in the whites are what make the cake rise (hot air rises), you want to deflate them as little as possible.
To fold the dry ingredients into the whites, Step 1: Take a rubber spatula and put it into the center of the whites.
Step 2: Slide the spatula underneath the whites and begin to bring it up the side.
Step 3: Bring the spatula up over the tops of the whites and fold the whites back down into the center. Turn the bowl a 1/4 turn and repeat until you have all of the dry ingredients incorporated. Try not to over mix. Be as gentle as possible.
7. Carefully move the batter into an ungreased Angel Food Cake Pan:
There are two main reasons you don’t want to grease the pan: a) because you don’t want any fat to impede the rising of the whites; and b) the whites will use the dry pan to hold on to and even use it to climb up the sides of the pan during baking.
8. Bake the cake for 35 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched on top.
9. As soon as possible after the cake is taken from the oven, invert the cake pan onto a narrow-necked bottle (a wine bottle is perfect). This will help keep the deflation of the cake to a minimum (by keeping it it from collapsing under it’s own weight). There will be some deflation as the cake cools no matter what because as the air in the cake cools, the lighter hot air dissipates and the heavier cool air takes its place.
Leave the cake in this position until it is completely cooled.
10. When the cake is completely cooled, run a knife around the outer edge of the cake to help release it from the bowl of the pan. Pull, carefully, on the chimney and pull the cake out.
At this point, you can do one of two things to finish releasing the cake: a) Run a knife around the chimney and around the base to release the cake; or, do what I do, and, b) simply run a knife around the center and cut pieces off as needed. Then I store the uncut cake in the pan and cover it.
Sorry about the lighting. My bulbs seem to be a little yellow. I swear the cake is white.
This cake, by the way, is excellent with chocolate sauce and strawberries. Mmm…