Spring is coming (we hope) and that means we can start to get excited about rhubarb and strawberry desserts! For me one of the best ways to enjoy spring fruit (or really any fruit for that matter) is to toss it with a bit of sugar and spoon it over a thick slice of angel food cake…chocolate sauce optional. Angel Food is a fat-free cake with a spongy texture perfect for soaking up the juices of fresh fruit (or that chocolate sauce). They may be intimidating to make, but with a few (say 10ish) tips, you can become an Angel Food pro!
So before we even get started, let’s just get one thing clear; your homemade Angel Food will not be as high as the boxed mixes that you buy. Those mixes contain additives like cellulose gum, soy protein and sodium lauryl sulfate to “artificially” produce a high cake. They also cheat by adding chemical leaveners like baking soda. A true Angel Food cake is only leavened by eggs whites and requires only five ingredients plus some flavouring. Homemade Angel Food may not be as tall, but it should still be light and airy and it will also have a superior taste to the boxed versions. In fact, it tastes so good that my son thinks I should change the serving size on the recipe from eight to one to two servings!
Angel Food cake is a foam cake. It depends on all its leavening (rising power) on air trapped in beaten eggs, and it contains no fat. The key to Angel Food cakes is to produce a strong egg foam and then work with it gently and not jeopardize its structure. Read through these 10ish points (okay, some numbers have more than one tip after them) and you will be ready to make an Angel Food cake from scratch!!!
Don’t bang your whisk on the sides of the bowl to release the egg whites. This banging can break down some of your egg foam!
- Start with clean equipment. Any traces of fat (including egg yolks) will inhibit the production of the egg foam.
- Use cake flour and thoroughly whisk the dry flour to remove lumps. Lumps require more mixing which will deflate your egg foam. Cake flour has less gluten than all-purpose flour. Angel food cakes are tougher than regular cakes because of all the egg protein, so to prevent an even tougher cake, we want to limit the amount of gluten that is formed (for more on Gluten, visit my earlier blog on the subject).
- Mix the ½ of your sugar in with the cake flour. This will make the flour easier to fold into the egg foam.
- Do not skip the cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is an acid that will help make your egg foam more stable. It basically makes the protein bubbles less permeable to air and therefore stronger.
- Bring your egg whites to room temperature before beating. The proteins in the egg whites are more elastic and therefore will whip better than cold egg whites.
- Do not over-beat your egg whites. If you beat your eggs to stiff peaks, the proteins in the eggs will be stretched to their maximum. When steam is released in the baking process, the proteins will not be able to stretch any farther, so they will break and your cake will flop. (If you have made an Angel Food in the past that has flopped it is more likely because of over beating your eggs, but if you want to keep blaming it on your husband stomping through the kitchen go right ahead). Soft-peaked egg whites will have room to expand with the steam and will rise in the oven.
- Do not overwork the batter. Excess folding or mixing causes the egg foam to break down. The egg foam is what gives Angel Food most of its structure so you don’t want to break it down. Any small streaks of flour can be incorporated as you place it into the pan.
- Do not let the batter sit. Your oven should be pre-heated and your pan should be ready to go. The egg foam will begin to break down as it sits, compromising the structure of your cake.
- Do NOT grease your tube pan. An Angel Food cake needs to stick to the sides of the pan so it can climb up the pan. Gently spoon the batter into the UNGREASED tube pan to maintain the egg foam’s integrity.
- The structure of the cake sets while it is in the oven, but is not completely set until the cake has cooled. For this reason you need to cool the cake inverted so that it will not collapse on itself. Most tube pans have small feet that you can rest it on. If your pan does not have these place the cake on an inverted mug trying to keep it as level as possible (no need for circus type balancing on a bottle)!
If you don’t succeed the first time, remember that practice makes perfect, so try again. There is some “feel” to knowing when the egg whites are at the right consistency and how to fold in the flour, so the more you make it the easier it becomes. If the cake flops a bit just rip it up and sauté it in a little butter and you have sweet croutons to throw on your ice cream or toss with berries (or nibble on right out of the pan)!
Angel Food Cake
250 g (8 large) egg whites, room temperature
2 g (½ tsp) cream of tartar
1.25 ml (¼ tsp) salt
250 g (1¼ cups) sugar
2.5 ml ( ½ tsp) vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1.25 ml ( ¼ tsp) almond extract
95 g ( ¾ cup) cake flour, stirred with whisk to remove lumps
*For Chocolate Angel Food: Substitute 25 g (3 tbsp) of flour with unsweetened cocoa powder
Whisk the cake flour and ½ of sugar (125g / ½ cup plus 2 tbsp) together in a bowl. Set aside.
Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer or an electric beater, beat egg whites until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually beat in the remaining 125g (½ cup plus 2 tbsp) of sugar and beat until soft, moist peaks form (when your beater is lifted, the whites will be shiny and have peaks that droop on top). Do not beat to stiff peaks.
Gently fold in the sugar-flour mixture until just mixed in. Do not over fold. Gently spoon batter into UNGREASED, 20 or 23 cm (8 or 9 inch) tube (angel food cake) pan. Smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake at 165°C (325°F) for about 35 to 45 minutes. The top will be lightly browned and bounce back slightly when touched with your fingers.
Immediately invert the cake and allow to cool completely. If your pan does not have lifters, invert cake on a mug, keeping the cake as level as possible. You want to allow air to circulate under the cake. Once the cake is completely cooled, gentle run a thin, long knife along the sides of the cake and remove the main part of the pan. Next run the same knife under the bottom piece of the cake pan and gently remove cake.
adapted from Professional Baking 5thEditionby Wayne Gisslen