Angel Food Cake… A Devil to Make and Bake?

I remember well, as a youngster, watching my Grandma Neve make her angel food cakes, usually on a Saturday morning in preparation for a family get-together the next day.  My eyes would be wide with fascination as she whipped the egg whites in what seemed in my young mind to be an immense crockery bowl wedged in the crook of her left arm, resting on her hip.  Her metal whip flew around that bowl at breakneck speeds, the gelatinous egg whites slowly turning into a growing frothy mass that began to resemble a fluffy white cloud.   I was exhausted just watching her and often wondered how she managed such a feat without breaking into a sweat!  Her cakes were always perfect… light and delicate, as well as tall.  What was her secret?  My mom’s angel food cakes were good, but never able to measure up to Grandma’s creations which truly were a work of art!  I always wanted to be able to create a cake that matched hers… an impossible task, I thought.  Filled with inspiration one day, as well as wanting to take up the challenge, I searched through her recipe box, now 80 years old, that became mine after she had passed on to her great reward and found the 3X5 card, stained and smudged from years of use, that contained the treasured cake recipe.  My heart raced as I read through the list of ingredients written in her own hand on the front side of the card.  With anticipation I turned the card over, knowing with certainty that the secret to her glorious cakes would be revealed in her handwritten directions.  My heart sank… it was blank!  Grandma had had the technique tucked away in her head!  We began searching through our vast collection of baking and cake cookbooks, hoping to find a recipe the technique of which would correspond as closely as possible to the memories I had from Grandma’s kitchen so many years ago.  As the search went on we finally found a technique that closely matched my memories of hers.  Every angel food cake baked in our kitchen since then has been pure perfection and I know that Grandma would be proud!

Attempting to bake an angel food cake can be daunting.  There is precision involved as well as a lot of visual assessment during each step.  Move forward, however, with confidence, and look forward to an award winning, purple ribbon Grand Champion!

 

Grandma Neve’s Angel Food Cake

Preliminaries

  1. Bring all ingredients, particularly the egg whites, to room temperature.  Egg whites will not mount properly if chilled.
  2. Set rack in middle or lower-middle level of oven.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees at least 20 minutes prior to baking.

Step 1:  Preparing the Dry Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 C unsifted cake flour (measure by scooping cup into large container of flour and sweeping off excess with the back of a knife)

  • 3/4 C baker’s sugar

Measure flour into sifter and add the sugar:

Sift onto waxed paper or parchment, returning to sifter and sifting a total of 3 times:

Return the dry ingredients to the sifter and set aside in a bowl:

 

Step 2:  Beating the Egg Whites & Completing the Batter

  • 1 1/2 C egg whites (12 large eggs)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

With an electric mixer set at LOW speed, beat egg whites with vanilla and almond extracts in a 5 to 6 quart mixing bowl for about 1 minute, or until they have become a loose foamy mass:

Add:

  • 1 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Increase mixer speed to MEDIUM.  Pushing beaters aggressively through the egg whites (or moving the bowl of a stationary mixer around under the beaters) beat egg whites until they are frothy and stand in soft peaks:

 

Increase mixer speed to HIGH and gradually add over the course of about 1 minute:

  • 1 1/2 C baker’s sugar

 Continue to beat egg whites for 10 to 30 seconds after the last of the sugar has gone in, or just long enough for the whites to look thick and glossy, like shaving lather:

Do not overbeat the whites and make them dry.  At this point I transfer the beaten egg whites to a large stainless steel bowl in order to facilitate an easier folding process:

Sift dry ingredients from Step 1, 1/3 at a time, over the egg whites:

Gently fold in each addition before sifting on the next, folding the mixture from the bottom of the bowl to the top, turning the bowl with each fold, to fully incorporate the ingredients:

Do not overfold or the egg whites will deflate!

Step3:  Baking & Cooling the Cake

Pour batter into an ungreased tube pan.  Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and gently shake the pan back and forth several times to settle the batter into the corners:

Bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top has flattened and springs back when touched and the center has shrunk slightly from the tube:

Do not underbake or the cake will be too moist and may even fall out of the pan when hung to cool.

After removing cake from the oven, place the tube over the neck of a bottle (a wine bottle works great!) and let the cake hang upside down until completely cooled.  To unmold, gently run a long knife around the inside of the pan and the tube.  Rap the pan sharply against the countertop two or three times to loosen the cake from the bottom, then invert cake onto a serving plate.  It should drop out at once.  If it does not, very gently run the knife around the bottom of the tube pan as well, realizing that the bottom of the cake will become the top.  Slice and enjoy it in its simplicity, or use it as the foundation for a creative dessert… Bon Appetit!

 

Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Categories: Cakes

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!

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2 Comments on “Angel Food Cake… A Devil to Make and Bake?”

  1. Kris Klingbeil
    November 1, 2009 at 4:13 PM #

    When we were in 4H my fair cooking project was an Angel Food Cake from scratch. I tried them many times and they all came out pretty flat. I decided that Grandma Neve could teach me how to make a cake like hers. I went down to their house one day and she helped me learn how to make a tall and delightful cake, and of course it turned out great—so we ate it. When I went to make mine for the fair I knew I could do it, but alas—mine turned out about 2 inches tall and was the winner of a white ribbon–the lowest prize. To this day I have never tried to make another one from scratch, but with your inspiring story I may have to do so! Thanks brother!

    • November 1, 2009 at 5:43 PM #

      I remember those 4H cooking projects very well… and I remember your disappointment in receiving a white ribbon, as well! You’ve become a fine home chef and baker in your own right through the years and I’m thrilled that you may once again, after these many years, reach for that purple Grand Champion ribbon in your own kitchen!

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