Perfect Angel Food Cake

Nik Sharma

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If one could eat the clouds or a light pillow, the texture of an angel food cake would aptly fit into the description. An angel food cake gets its light texture from sugar and egg whites. The heat generated during whisking, combined with the sugar and cream of tartar, helps the proteins in the egg white denature, which leads to the production of an airy spongy cake. Learning how to make an angel food cake is a great way to improve your technique at making cakes, and I find it a great way to improve my mental focus and patience when I fold the flour into the eggs.

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Perfect Angel Food Cake

A classic American cake invented in the 1880s in St. Louis, Missouri, the angel food cake is one of the lightest sponge cakes created. The cake differs from other sponge cakes because it uses no fat and relies solely on egg whites and sugar to build its characteristic soft and cloudy texture. The cake can be flavored and served in many ways; I love to eat it with fresh fruit, fruit preserves, yogurt, sweetened whipped cream, or crème fraîche.

 

  • Yield: One 9 in/23 cm cake

Ingredients

1 ½ cups/300 g superfine sugar

1 cup/120 g cake flour

12 large egg whites warmed to room temperature

1 tsp ground green cardamom, almond, or vanilla extract

1 ½ tsp cream of tartar

1/8 tsp fine sea salt

Cooking spray oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F/165C. Set the angel food cake pan over a wire rack over a baking sheet.
  2. Dry whisk half the sugar /150 g and cake flour in a medium bowl.
  3. Place the egg whites and the remaining half of the sugar/150 g in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk for 1 minute using the whisk attachment over medium-high speed until the egg whites turn frothy. Stop the mixer. Add the cardamom, cream of tartar, and salt and whisk over medium-high speed until it forms soft white peaks (the peaks of the egg whites will lose their shape quickly) and almost quadruples in volume, 2 to 3 minutes. Stop the mixer. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
  4. Sift half of the dry whisked sugar-flour mix over the whipped egg whites. Using a balloon whisk, fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites using an outward to inwards motion, turning the mixture over. You can also do this using a silicone spatula. Make sure to go to the bottom of the bowl to ensure that all the dry ingredients get incorporated. Once there are no visible flecks of dry flour, add and fold the remaining sugar-flour mix in the same manner.
  5. Transfer the cake batter to the angel food cake pan. Using a silicone spatula or spoon, gently level the top. Bake the pan in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the cake rises to the top, turns golden brown, and the top springs back quickly. Remove the pan from the oven. Spray the wire rack of the baking pan with a little oil. Immediately flip the pan with the cake over the wire rack so the pan stands on its legs, and let it sit undisturbed to cool for at least 1 hour. Once cooled, turn the pan over, and release the cake by running a knife along the edges. Remove the cake. The cake tastes best the day it’s made but will be good for up to 3 days if stored in the refrigerator wrapped with plastic wrap.

Notes

  • I use this Angel Food Cake Pan. It has three “legs,” which help provide enough space for air to circulate and cool the cake.
  • The egg whites must be warmed to room temperature. Either place whole eggs in their shells in a water bath with room temperature water or place the extracted egg whites in the metal bowl of a stand mixer and place it in the water bath for at least 30 minutes. The egg whites should be at 70 to 75F/21 to 24C.
  • The sugar must be superfine, aka caster sugar. This helps it dissolve rapidly in the egg whites.
  • You must use cake flour for its lower protein content. Another option is to use 1 cup/120 g all-purpose flour and 1 tsp cornstarch.
  • Do not use lemon juice in place of cream of tartar. Fresh lemon juice adds liquid which affects the ratios. Also, lemon juice contains ascorbic acid. While ascorbic acid does help prevent fruits and vegetables from browning at room temperature, during the high temperatures of baking, it does the opposite and can increase browning. Cream of tartar gives a much cleaner result and more efficient result.
  • Sifting the dry ingredients over the whipped egg whites helps reduce the probability of finding dry chunks of flour in the baked cake. It is also a much gentler way to add the flour to the eggs, if it was directly dunked over the egg whites, the weight of the flour would deflate the egg foam.
  • There are two ways to fold the dry ingredient into the egg whites. You can fold it like it is done with a genoise cake using a silicone spatula or a balloon whisk. The two essential things to remember here, use an outward to inward circular motion, going from the top to the bottom of the bowl, so all the flour gets incorporated into the egg whites.
  • This is one place where I’m not particularly eager to use a knife or skewer to check for doneness. It can be very misleading. Even if a skewer comes out clean, the cake might not be finished. If you feel unsure about the springy texture, use a thermometer. The internal temperature of the cake should be 212F/100C.
  • Angel food cakes are “dry”; no fat is used to make them. It contains sugar and egg white, which absorb and bind water easily. As a result, they can absorb moisture from the air quickly. Eating the cake, the day it’s made provides the best experience.

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