What Angels Eat
April 4, 2015
Had a dozen egg whites saved – been making a lot of lemon tarts lately – so last night I decided to make an angel food cake.
I'd forgotten how satisfyingly beautiful they are – all high and white – and what a pleasure the texture is. Pure sponge.
When my friend Marion Cunningham was working on the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, she sent a recipe for the classic cake to thirty-five bakers, asking them each to bake the cake, exactly as written, and bring it to a meeting. She called me afterward in great excitement; “You would not believe how different they were,” she marveled. “They all had holes in the middle, but other than that, each cake was unique.”
Appalled by this, she and the other bakers decided to perfect the recipe. This cake, created by Flo Braker, is angel food perfection. Follow these instructions and you will have a high, white cloud-like confection that truly does seem food fit for angels.
Five Steps to a Better Angel Food Cake
- Cold eggs are easier to separate, so do it when the eggs are right out of the refrigerator.
- If even the tiniest amount of fat gets into the eggs they will refuse to whip. So separate each egg white into its own bowl before adding it to the others, in case one of the yolks breaks.
- Leave your egg whites out of the refrigerator, for about an hour. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the optimum temperature is 60 degrees. The whites are more viscous at this temperature, and the air bubbles more stable. (Room temperature is about 70 degrees; they will whip more quickly, but at this temperature they are easy to over-beat.)
- To insure there's no grease on the bowl or beater, wipe them with white vinegar and rinse in very hot water. Dry well.
- Make sure your oven is 350 degrees. If the oven’s too low, the sugar will absorb the liquid from the egg whites and turn syrupy. If it’s too hot, the outside will set before the interior.
- Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan.
Angel Food Cake (From Baker’s Dozen Cookbook)
12 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Allow the egg whites to sit in the bowl of a stand mixer for about an hour, to come to just above room temperature (70 degrees).
Sift the confectioner’s sugar, cake flour and salt together.
Whip egg whites at low speed until they are foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium. Keep whipping, gradually adding the cup of granulated sugar, until the whites thicken and form soft, droopy peaks. Add vanilla.
Sprinkle a quarter cup of the flour mixture over the whites and fold it in, by hand, with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the next quarter, and the next, until all the flour has all been gently folded in. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Bake at 350 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden, the top springs back when you touch it, and a toothpick comes out clean. Invert the pan onto the neck of a bottle. Leave for 2 hours so that the cake is completely cool.
Run a knife around the sides of pan until you feel it release. Then push up the bottom of the pan. Loosen the cake bottom by tapping on a counter until it’s free and invert onto a plate, and then back onto a cake platter.
Slice with a serrated knife.
Waiting for the cake to cool – there's something wonderful about the way you hang these upside down- I realized it might want some sort of embellishment. Ice cream? Looked in the freezer, and found we had none.
But I did find a package of frozen cranberries still lingering from Thanksgiving, that gave me an idea. What if I made a quick frozen cream with that? Would it work?
Basically I poured half a package of the frozen berries into a blender, added a few tablespoons of sugar and about a cup of heavy cream, and kept blending and tasting til the balance seemed right. Tart and creamy, it was the perfect accompaniment to this cake.