This is what I like about angel food cake: It is beautiful. It is light. It is totally fat-free. It is a gorgeously empty canvas for all manner of desserts. When done right, it’s a high, white cloud-like confection, a perfect example of the importance of the chemistry of cooking.
When my friend Marion Cunningham was working on the Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, she sent a recipe for angel food cake to thirty-five bakers, asking each to bake it 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 different.” Intrigued by this, she and the other bakers decided to perfect the recipe. This cake, created by Flo Braker, is the result. Follow these tips and instructions and you will have a dessert that truly does seem like food fit for angels.
1. Cold eggs are easier to separate, so do it when the eggs are right out of the refrigerator.
2. If even the tiniest amount of yolk or fat gets into the eggs they will refuse to whip. To ensure that there is no grease on the bowl or beater, wipe them with white vinegar and rinse in very hot water. Dry well. In case one of the yolks breaks, it’s best to separate each egg white into a small bowl before adding it to the others.
3. Leave your egg whites in the bowl, out of the refrigerator, for about an hour. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the optimum temperature is 60 degrees. The white are more viscous at this temperature, and the air bubbles are more stable. (Room temperature is about 70 degrees; they will whip more quickly, but at this temperature they are easy to overbeat.)
4. Make sure your oven is 350⁰ F. 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.
5. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the pan; if it’s warm, the tender crumb is likely to tear.
Angel Food Cake
(Adapted from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook)
12 large egg whites
1½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Let egg whites come up to temperature: Allow the egg whites to sit in a meticulously-cleaned, grease-free bowl of a stand mixer for about an hour, to come to just under room temperature. (Make sure the beater is totally clean as well.)
Preheat oven and sift: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Make sure the temperature is accurate. Sift the confectioner’s sugar, cake flour and salt together.
Whip egg whites: Whip egg whites at low speed in the mixer 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.
Fold in dry ingredients: 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 and then cool: Bake 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 3 hours so that the cake is completely cool.
Release cake and serve: 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.
Instant Strawberry Ice Cream
I can’t resist including this, because it is another miracle of a recipe, and it makes the most perfect accompaniment to Angel Food Cake. It’s a three-ingredient, three-step ice cream that doesn’t need an ice cream maker. Besides, strawberry season will soon slide away, and if you’re going to attempt this, now’s the time to do it.
18 ounces (about a quart) fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market
¼ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
1 cup heavy cream
Prep berries: Wash and stem your berries, and cut them into large chunks (leave them whole if they’re very small). The weight will vary with different kinds of berries, but I’ve found that a quart, once it’s stemmed and the inevitable overripe berries tossed, will be about 20 ounces.
Freeze berries: Put a few berries aside to decorate your cake, sprinkle the remainder with about a tablespoon of sugar, and put them in the freezer until they are frozen solid. (You can do this ahead of time, put the berries into plastic bags, and have them on hand whenever you want to make instant ice cream.)
Mix cream and sugar: Just before serving, mix the cream with the sugar.
Blend ice cream: Put the frozen berries into the blender and blend, slowly adding the cream, stopping to stir from time to time. Blend until it has come together into a cool, smooth, gorgeously pink ice cream.
Serve or freeze: Serve immediately; this is best when it is freshly made, although it will keep in the freezer for a few weeks.