There are some recipes that are so ingrained in the family history we don’t mess with them at all, well, at least not much…
My mom, my daughter, and my niece all list angel food cake as their favorite, a it is often a birthday cake request. My granddaughter’s birthday is two days before my daughter’s in late April, so we generally have a shared cake and party for them both, as we did this year. So good to get together again.
A simple recipe, just take care
It’s a simple recipe with few ingredients, the most important of which is the precious air we beat into the batter. Precious because the cake gets its lift from egg whites alone. Easy, but it is a lesson in patience, with a long beat, a long bake, and a long rest.
The right pan
This works best with a traditional angel food cake pan with pull-out center and little legs for cooling the cake upside down. I have my mom’s, so it’s been around for many decades! She probably bought hers in the hardware store, where you can still find them. If you don’t have one, you can use a bundt cake pan, but it will be a bit more difficult to extract the cake.
Often, mom would frost it with billowy seven-minute frosting, one of her favorites. She placed a piece of cardboard over the center top hole before she frosted it, and we kids would always fight over who got that frosted hole when the cake was being cut. This frosting took a couple more egg whites as well, but I can’t remember what she did with all those yolks!
Zest it up!
If all you have ever had is the stale, packaged angel food cake from the supermarket, the real thing is nothing like it! The homemade cake is light and fluffy, sweet, and a blank canvas for however you want to dress it up. We usually serve this straight up with berries on the side and some whipped cream or lemon curd. I sometimes add some lemon or orange zest to the cake to add a little more interest. With the citrus zest, serving it with a curd made from some of the egg yolks is a perfect match.
Just a change or two
My addition to mom’s recipe is to add the pulp of one of my vanilla beans from my homemade vanilla extract. You can also just split a bean and use the seeds to add a bit more interest to the flavor. I’ve also made a chocolate version substituting a quarter cup of Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder for a quarter cup of the flour and adding a teaspoon of instant espresso powder. I thought it was really good, but my family likes the marshmallowy flavor of the traditional.
A treat, don’t mess with it!
It is not difficult, but you have to follow the rules with this one. I tried to make it vegan (using aquafaba) and gluten free once and it did not work, maybe one or the other would have. Other than using organic ingredients where possible for the planet, especially the eggs, there is no way to make it healthy, I’ve tried, so all things in moderation. We just leave it as a treat, add some birthday candles, and celebrate your family!
(Mostly) Mom’s Angel Food Cake
- 12 egg whites, room temperature
- 1 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 cup cake flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Pulp of one vanilla bean, optional
Read the Angle Food Cake Tips below before beginning.
Preheat the oven to 275 F. This is a good time to check the actual temperature of your oven with a thermometer.
Sift the flour with the salt and set aside.
Beat the egg whites on low to break them up and get them frothy, then turn up the mixer to medium, add the cream of tartar (to stabilize), and beat until fluffy, about five to six minutes. Take your time. Sprinkle in the sugar a spoonful at a time, gently, then continue beating for another five minutes or so, until the mixture is light and fluffy and soft peaks form. Add the vanilla, and the mixer has done its job.
Fold in the flour mixture about a third of a cup at a time, and gently fold into the batter. You don’t want to knock out any more air than necessary, so be gentle.
Fill the UNGREASED cake pan and level off the top, giving it one little whack on the counter to release any large pockets of air. A little one.
Bake in an ungreased angel food cake pan at 275 for about an hour and 15 minutes, check at an hour. Be careful not to disturb. When brown and firm to the touch, remove from oven and invert on the pan’s legs or a bottle stuck in the hole of the bundt cake. Let cool completely. If you don’t invert it, you will have what looks like a sunken soufflé.
To free the cake, gently slide a thin knife around the side of the pan, keeping as close to the pan as possible. Run the knife along the center as well, then lift the cake off the bottom. Using that long, thin knife, run it along the bottom of the pan releasing the cake. It takes a few minutes, but really is not difficult.
Garnish as you will, and slice with a serrated knife, a gentle back and forth.
Angel Food Cake tips:
- Invest in an angel food cake pan, you’ll have it forever and pass it on.
- Have all ingredients at room temperature.
- Make sure your bowl and beaters are sparkling clean. Mom would give hers an extra wipe with a bit of white vinegar just to make sure.
- Separate the white of each egg into a small dish before adding it to the mixing bowl. If there is even the slightest bit of yolk, your eggs won’t fluff up.
- Add the sugar just a light sprinkle at a time so you don’t knock out the air.
- Use patience with the beating of the eggs, you want to end up with soft, shiny peaks of luscious marshmallow-like consistency.
- Gently fold in the vanilla, also trying not to knock out the air you have just incorporated.
- Never grease the pan! The eggs need to climb up the sides, and if it is greased, or a non-stick surface, they will not be able to do their job.
- Invert immediately after removing from the oven. Immediately. I learned this the hard way.
- Let cool completely while inverted. That means cold, not a bit of warm to the touch. Once cold, the cake will be stable.
- Use a serrated knife to cut into portions, not difficult at all.
For the luscious lemon curd, recipe here.
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