My mother used to say that eating Angel Food Cake was like eating a sponge. A dry sponge at that.
She had this way of sneering by raising her upper lip up almost into her nose that, to this day, years since she passed away, when I think of it and picture her, still makes me howl with laughter.
Anyway, she made that face when she mentioned Angel Food Cake. Which she refused to eat. My mother was a baker and insisted there were better baked goodies to feast upon.
At some point I was asked to write about Angel Food Cake for a newspaper column. This was a dilemma, because I had never tasted it homemade, so I didn’t actually know what the goal was. I had tasted Angel Food Cake in my college dorm cafeteria and had to agree with my mother on this one. It was like a sponge.
The packaged Angel Food Cakes at the supermarket didn’t look any better, so I never bought one. And I didn’t want to spend any money on an expensive bakery version because what if it was as awful as I expected?
So, I tested several recipes and experimented.
I was pleasantly surprised by the result. Very pleasantly surprised.
Angel Food Cake is not rich or dense like, say, a chocolate cake or a marshmallow-frosted coconut cake.
Nope. It is the opposite. It is light, soft, ethereal. The kind of confection that’s perfect on a summer day or after a big meal when you want a bit of sweet but not something that will make you weighed down like you swallowed a boulder.
And this is the bonus: Angel Food Cake is dairy free and fat free. No butter, margarine, oil, egg yolks, milk, cream, yogurt or sour cream in this cake.
Best of all, it tastes good. I make it with vanilla and almond extracts and sometimes with orange extract and freshly grated orange peel. I’ve made it chocolate flavored too.
There are special pans for Angel Food Cake, but you don’t actually need one. I don’t have one — I make mine in a bundt pan. The reason for the special pan is that the cake must cool upside down (because you do not grease the pan and the cake would stick otherwise) and has “feet” for this purpose. I place the baked cake upside down on the neck of a glass (do NOT use plastic or it will melt) bottle. It works just fine as you can see in the photos.
Here is my recipe with variations. I think even my mother would like it.
Angel Food Cake
1 cup cake flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups egg whites at room temperature (about 10-12 eggs)
1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift the cake flour, half the sugar and the salt together three times. Set aside. Whip the egg whites until they are foamy in an electric mixer set on medium-high. Gradually add the cream of tartar and whip until the mixture stands in soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining sugar and whip until the mixture stands in stiff, glossy peaks. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Fold in the flour mixture in thirds, carefully incorporating the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into an ungreased 10” tube pan or angel cake pan. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the cake is puffy, golden brown and a cake tester, inserted into the center, comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place the cake upside down, either with the cake pan legs or by inverting the cake over a tall glass bottle. When the cake is cool, loosen the edges with the tip of a sharp knife, then invert and gently shake the pan over a cake plate. Makes one cake
Chocolate: substitute 3/4 cup cake flour plus 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Orange: add 1 teaspoon orange extract and 2 tablespoons grated fresh orange peel to the batter with the extracts