angel food cake
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Why is it called angel food cake? I suppose it’s difficult to imagine old Gabriel tucking into a juicy, rare T-bone steak, or shovelling in platefuls of bangers and mash. But take Michael on the other hand - he’s a big, strapping, sword-wielding lad (erm - archangel) with an enormous shield, and just look at the wings on him! Sure takes a couple of muscles to carry that pair around! Without proper food down him, I seriously doubt he could find the strength to leads God's armies against Satan's forces elsewhere than up the garden path.
Michael aside though, angel food is, both in actual cake and in perception, airy-fairy, floaty, fluffy and insubstantial. It’s like eating cloud. Really sweet cloud. But surprisingly, it can be sliced and layered, filled with cream and fruit and curd without fear of collapsing. What it is basically is a butterless, fatless, egg yolk-less sponge. Airy-fairy.
I was really worried that it wouldn’t hold, whites beaten to a lovely stiff meringue, but seeing as there’s nothing else to hold it apart from a bit of cream of tartar, I thought it might rise sky-high in the oven and collapse in a heap when removed. No fear - it holds great, better than a couple of genoises I’ve encountered.
The only downside - if it IS a downside - is that you’re left with about a million egg yolks afterwards so you have to very quickly bake a gateau Breton or make industrial quantities of mayo.
angel food cake
- 360ml egg whites (11-12 eggs)
- 125g plain flour
- 300g caster sugar
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp rose water or your favourite extract (almond, orange)
Sift the flour with half the amount of the sugar into a bowl. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Get a two part angel food cake tube pan ready but do not grease it.
Separate the eggs while cold – it’s much easier (some ideas for what to do with the egg yolks in the preface above) and bring them to room temperature. Place them in the bowl of a standing mixer with a balloon whisk attachment, or in a very large bowl if using a hand held mixer with a whisk. Beat until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, salt and the lemon juice and continue until soft peaks. Start adding the remaining sugar, by a tablespoon, and continue beating until the meringue is stiff and glossy and the sugar is used up. Add the vanilla extract and your flavour and beat in.
Fold the flour and sugar mix into the meringue in four goes, using a spatula or a hand whisk – be careful not to deflate the mix. Pour it into the tin, cut a spatula through the batter to smooth it out and remove any air pockets.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the sponge springs back when gently pressed.
Immediately invert the tin and prop it up on an upturned bowl or small pot, so the cake is suspended in the tin. Leave it to cool completely.
When cold, run a palette knife around the sides of the tin to release the cake, then run it along the bottom and around the tube to unmould it. Place on a serving dish and decorate with strawberries, cream, and all things summery.