Tackling Angel Food Cake

By Beth Brown, Kitchen Store Specialist

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When I think about strawberry shortcake, I instantly think of the “shortcake” style, which is basically like a sweeter version of the biscuit.

DSC_0313My experience with angel food cake growing up was the store-bought variety, which I was never a big fan of, probably because the foam-like sponge reminded me of washing the dishes! But as an adventurous baker, I was curious about homemade angel food cake, and therefore began my investigation.

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Most of the recipes I found were pretty standard; egg whites, superfine sugar, cake flour, salt, vanilla, and cream of tartar. The more research I did, the more apprehensive I became. There are a lot of people in the webisphere who have a love-hate relationship with angel food cake, because the beautiful, light-yet-moist, towering confection produced by their grandmothers is apparently pretty hard to achieve. But I’m a girl who loves a challenge, so I decided to give it a go. Besides, I’d conquered the intimidating French macaron, and I wasn’t going to let angel food cake intimidate me!

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Here’s the recipe I used, via hip2save.com:

1 cup cake flour
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
12 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

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First things first, you need an angel food cake pan. Do not grease your pan! I repeat, DO NOT GREASE YOUR PAN! The sides of the pan need to be ungreased so your cake can rise up the sides properly. Most angel food cake pans have a removable bottom, which is vital for removing the cake when it’s done.

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The egg whites need to be at room temperature. I got mine out about two hours before I was going to start baking. Separate the eggs one at a time, because if even a speck of yoke sneaks in, the whites won’t stiffen properly. I used the Oxo egg separator, which has a handy lip that attaches to the side of the bowl.

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Preheat the oven to 235 degrees. Whisk together cake flour and ¾ + 2 tbs of the superfine sugar. (If you don’t have superfine sugar, put your regular sugar into the food processor and pulse until it is superfine.) This mixture should be sifted twice through a flour sifter. Don’t try to cut corners here, people. Sift it twice.

DSC_0206If you don’t have any cake flour, never fear! Combine a scant cup of flour with two teaspoons of corn starch. This lowers the protein content of the flour, making it just like store-bought cake flour.

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Next, start whipping your egg whites. Whites must be whipped to soft peaks. If they get too stiff, the cake won’t have the right texture, so keep a close eye on them! While you whip, add the salt and cream of tartar.

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Once your whites look almost ready, add ¾ cup of the sugar, almond extract, and the vanilla. Once the egg whites are making soft peaks (the peaks should stand for a second, then slowly sink back into the mixture), stop mixing.

Using a flat spatula, slowly fold your dry and wet ingredients together. Be careful not to over-mix, but make sure the flour gets fully incorporated into the whites. I overmixed mine just a bit, and the cake didn’t rise as high as I wanted, so tread lightly.

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Pour the mixture into the pan, and bake for 55 minutes in a 325 degree oven. While your cake is baking, the steam from the egg whites release, which causes the cake to rise. My cake took 35 minutes, (emitting a heavenly smell in the process!) and you can tell when it’s done by pressing your finger gently into the browned top. It should spring back. If it stays sunk down, cook a little longer.

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After you take your cake out of the oven, place it upside down over a bottle. This will keep your cake from flattening while it cools. Let it cool upside down for at least three hours, but preferably overnight. When it’s fully cooled and ready to serve, run a knife or off-set spatula around the edge and inner circle, and then turn your cake upside down to get it out. You’ll probably end up with some texture on the top—don’t worry. That’s what makes it homemade!

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We served our cake with fresh cut strawberries and whipped cream. Prepping the strawberries was extra slick thanks to the Chefn Stem Gem huller. The taste and texture of a homemade angel food cake is WAY better than the store bought! If you like angel food cake, it is definitely worth the trouble it takes to make it. My first attempt turned out delicious, but not flawless. I can’t wait to try it again to perfect my technique.

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