Angel Food Cakes Without a Bit of the Devil in Them

Saturday March 19, 2016

Angel food cake used to be ho-hum until someone marketed them as the “no-fat” treasure of the cake world.  Then it became a rage.  Again.  But the key word here is unadorned.

With a recipe in every American cookbook in print for the last hundred years, angel food cake was a favorite White House dessert in the 1800s.  They are said to have been originally a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty and contain no solid fat or egg yolk to tenderize the crumb.  With its sponge-like delicate texture and incredible versatility, pure white angel food cake has stepped into the 21st century intact.

I love the names for the different types of angel food cake:  Hell’s Angel (made with brown sugar), Dream Angel (frosted with whipped cream), Snow Angel (with coconut and coconut extract), and Little Angels (made in mini-bundt or tube pans).  Angel food cake can be made with all sorts of spice flavorings and extracts, but the basic proportions remain constant, although they are a wonderful venue for chunks of white or dark chocolate.  My sister Meg layers hers with defrosted sweetened raspberries and ices the whole cake with white chocolate whipped cream for a fantastic birthday cake.  With the addition of cocoa powder, a lovely low-cholesterol chocolate angel food cake can be made.

The secret to a good from-scratch angel food cake is beating the mass of egg whites until they are so airy that they stand on their own.  First, let your eggs set out of the refrigerator for 30 minutes before separating.  If you rush this, I guarantee you will not get a great cake.  Also when separating, make darn sure no yolk gets into those whites.  A dab of yolk can ruin a whole cake.  I separate each egg into a small bowl, then pour it into the mixing bowl.

At all stages you want to keep the whites from deflating.  This is beautifully accomplished with the electric mixers we have in our modern kitchens, but early recipes call for laborious hand beating.  There are three distinct stages in beating the whites for this type of cake:  first the room temperature egg whites are beaten until frothy with a beater or whisk attachment that is spotlessly clean.  Even a trace of butter or oil on the beater or in the bowl and you won’t have nice beaten whites.  Now the salt, the all-important cream of tartar (powdered crystals left on the inside of wine barrels after fermentation which add stability and volume-beating whites in a copper bowl has the same effect), and extracts can be added.

Then, on high speed, the whites will form soft, billowy peaks when the beater is raised up.  While the machine is beating, the fine granulated sugar is sprinkled in in a steady shower.  Slow is the key here, a tablespoon at a time, to keep the it from breaking down.  This makes a classic, sturdy mixture known as a meringue.  After the sugar is the time to incorporate the extracts.

The other ingredients are ever-so-gently folded in with a rubber spatula, a balloon whisk, or very slowly right with the mixer, so that the egg whites retain their full capacity.  It is the egg whites that will give the lift that will allow the cake to double in the oven on it’s own strength without any leavening.  Please use cake flour, which is bleached, since it holds the high proportion of sugar just right in an angel food cake and makes it nice and tender.  All-purpose flour just won’t rise as high.

The shiny metal two-piece angel food cake pan with the tube in the middle is easy to find, even supermarkets often carry one.  It is such a common kitchen pan that even people who don’t bake seem to own one.  It is always used ungreased, since the cake literally “climbs” while baking to make a nice light cake.  The tube allows heat to reach the center of the cake and makes for a very evenly baked delight.  Friends have baked this batter in cake pans, just for fun, and the cake just doesn’t perform as well outside of it’s traditional pan.  Better left well alone, although you can use a bundt pan, which in this case will be greased.

The tube also performs another function out of the oven.  The cake must be inverted during cooling to keep that lovely height or else it will sink mercilessly.  Usually there are three little feet on the pan edge, but if your cake is extra high, just invert the funnel onto a full soda or wine bottle for about 1 1/2 hours.

With their high fluffy texture, angel food cakes gave directions to be cut by being torn apart with two forks to prevent squishing.  There was this gadget called a cake breaker that looks like a pronged Afro comb that was always in my mother’s utensil drawer that was supposed to tear the cake to perfection, but I never saw it used.  I find a good serrated knife and a gentle back-and-forth sawing motion works better.  Just never press down.  Plain (unfilled) cakes keep 2 to 3 days at room temperature and a week in the fridge.

The chocolate recipe comes from baker and food entrepreneur Robert Lambert from his book Chocolate Fantasy Desserts. The secret to the great chocolate flavor is the use of chocolate extract, available at Williams-Sonoma.  If you like chocolate fondue, this is the cake to cube and dip.

Chocolate Angel Food Cake

Ingredients

1/2 cup cake flour (Softasilk)

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (like Droste)

1 1/2 cups Baker’s superfine granulated sugar

12 large egg whites, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons chocolate extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375º.  Sift together the flour, cocoa, and 3/4 cup of the sugar onto a piece of waxed paper.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and salt.  Continue beating until soft peaks are formed, then reduce the speed to medium and sprinkle in the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar in a steady shower.  Increase the speed to high again and beat until stiff peaks are formed.  Add the extracts on low.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and with a large rubber spatula, fold   in the flour mixture, 1/3 at a time and very gently, to form a fluffy batter.

Scrape the batter into a 10-inch angel food cake pan, taking care there are not pockets.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 30 to 34 minutes, until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester comes out clean.Remove from the oven and invert over the nect of a bottle.  Cool completely to room temperature before turning upright, running a thin metal spatula around the inner and outer edge to loosen.  Remove the side of the pan (the cake will still be attached to the tube).  Invert onto a cake plate.  Makes one 10-inch cake.

The orange-cinnamon version is from an old old Chocolatier magazine and makes 6 individual cakes in that specialty baby bundt mold that there are never enough recipes for.  Get ready to lick the spoon on the glaze.  Search out Boyajian orange oil; it is absolutely divine and makes the cake superbly special. Great for parties, one per guest.

Orange-Cinnamon Little Angel Food Cakes

Ingredients

1/2 cup cake flour (Softasilk)

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

5 large egg whites, room temperature

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup Baker’s sugar

1 teaspoon orange extract

1teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 large orange

Orange Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons orange juice

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325º.  Spray the 6 molds on a mini-bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Sift together the flour, confectioners’sugar, and cinnamon onto a piece of waxed paper.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and salt.  Continue beating until soft peaks are formed, then reduce the speed to medium and sprinkle in the granulated sugar in a steady shower.  Increase the speed to high again and beat until stiff peaks are formed.  Add the extracts and zest on low.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and with a large rubber spatula, fold  in the flour mixture, 1/3 at a time and very gently, to form a fluffy batter.

Divide the batter between the 6 pans, taking care there are not pockets.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans and a cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and loosen by running a small metal spatula around the inner and outer edge.  Let stand 5 to 10 minutes.  Place a wire rack over the mold and invert to cool completely out of the pan before glazing.

To make the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and juice until smooth.  Dip a large fork into the glaze and drizzle over the top and sides of each cake.  The glaze will firm up as it stands.  Makes six individual cakes.

Angel food cakes are a very unique and specific type of cakes. If you are on a diet, it will be a perfunctory cake to make ASAP. if you are just a home baker, it will be down the list a bit after birthday layer cakes and cheesecakes. First they are made with no fat. So they are very popular as of late. They are leavened by lots of egg whites beaten to dramatic towering peaks. The resulting cake is light and airy, but only if you know the right way to cool it. As the cake bakes (in a tube pan or special angel food cake pan), the batter climbs up the tall smooth sides and center tube. When it comes out of the oven, it needs to cool upside down so that the cake does not collapse down the sides, flatten, and become dense. Some angel food cake pans have “legs” designed to suspend the pan off the counter as the cake cools. But if you use just a regular tube pan, then a good trick is to suspend the pan upside down over the neck of a bottle. Its a fun cake to make. It does not work in bundt pans, althoe it can work in miniature bundt or tube pans.

So up in Berkeley when my boyfriend lived on 6th street, was a fantastic Mexican restaurant named Picante. It was always jammed. the food and produce was from the berkeley bowl, the manager was part of the Chez Panisse insider group. their signature dessert was a Mexican Angel Food Cake. This cake gets its name from the combination of chocolate and spices, which is common in Mexican cooking. I spent plenty of time trying to find the recipe, with no luck. I could make one up easy enough but I wanted the one from Picante. so years go by and what do I find by accident but the recipe itself and from the restaurant. surprise surprise. it was made from a commercial mix with flavors added. which means any home cook can make this any ol day. being popular there is another recipe for Mexican Angel Food Cake, from scratch created by the From The Wellness Kitchen, by the staff of The Wellness Kitchen and the editors of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter. Its a great recipe to stash away and a wonderful cake to carry to a potluck or birthday party with some whipped cream.  Its a gentle cake…gentle on the calories, easy to eat, light textured, and gentle on the plate. You must use mini chocolate chips so not to weigh down the cake too much.

birthday party design

Mexican Chocolate Cake/Picante Restaurant in Berkeley

Servings 10 from 1-10-9nch tube pan.

Ingredients

1 (18 ounce) box angel food cake mix
1⁄3 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder
1 1/2 teaspoons  cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon allspice
1 1⁄3 cups cold water
1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1⁄4 cup mini chocolate chips

Instructions

In a mixer bowl for a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, pour in the dry angel food cake mix.
Add to dry cake mix, cornstarch, cocoa powder, instant coffee, cinnamon, and allspice.
Mix cold water and extracts. Add to dry ingredients.
Turn mixer on low and mix for 30 seconds. Then mix for 3 minutes on medium.
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10 inch angel food cake pan or tube pan.
Bake at 325 degrees for 53 to 58 minutes until cake is set and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Invert cake pan and allow cake to cool upside down.
With a small metal spatula, loosen the sides of the cake and invert on to cake plate.
Dust with 1 tbsp powdered sugar.

Mexican Chocolate Angel Food Cake

From The Wellness Kitchen, by the staff of The Wellness Kitchen and the editors of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter. This is the traditional method for making angel food cake.

Servings 10 from 1-10-9nch tube pan.

Ingredients

¾ cup cake flour (soft as silk)

1⅓ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

12 large egg whites, at room temperature

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ cup mini chocolate chips (2 ounces)

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (optional)

texture texture

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. If your angel food cake pan doesn’t have “legs,” have a long-necked bottle ready to hang the cake on as it cools.

2. On a sheet of wax paper, sift together the flour, ⅓ cup of the granulated sugar, the cocoa powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer with whisk beater, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until very stiff peaks form. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts until well combined.

4. Sift the flour-cocoa mixture over the egg whites and sprinkle the chocolate chips lightly over the top. Fold into the egg whites.

5. Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan or tube pan and bake for one hour, or until the cake is set and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Invert the cake pan over the neck of the bottle and allow the cake to cool upside down.

6. With a small metal spatula, loosen the sides of the cake and invert onto a cake plate. Dust with the confectioners’ sugar, if desired, before serving.

Nutrition per slice: 190 calories, 1.7g total fat (1g saturated), 0mg cholesterol, 1g dietary fiber, 39g carbohydrate, 6g protein, 126mg sodium.

Text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016. Recipes copyright Robert Lambert, Picante Restaurant and The Wellness Kitchen and the editors of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter.

Please enjoy the recipes and make them your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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