July 8th, 2008
I would like to welcome Mike Brindley, a co-worker and fellow food-lover. He let me try some of this angel food cake and I have to say it was quite fluffy and delicious! I hope you enjoy it! — Keith
I’ve always loved angel food cake; so light and airy. Years ago, I made it from a boxed mix, like my Mom did. Recently, I’ve seen some TV chefs make angel food from scratch and they emphasized how easy it was to make; that gave me the itch to try it for myself! But I didn’t have an angel food cake pan. So I decided to try it with loaf pans.
Angel food cake pans have three important features: the bottom and sides can be separated, so you can remove the cake, there is a hole/tube in the middle to help with baking, and they have “stand-offs” on the top so the cake can cool upside down (cooling upside down helps keep the cake from collapsing before the structure sets up during cooling). I had to improvise with the loaf pans to overcome the lack of these features.
I decided to use Alton Browns recipe from his show Good Eats. This recipe suggests using orange extract which I thought would go well with strawberries. Ina Garten has a very similar recipe using lemon zest, which also sounded good.
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cake flour, sifted
- 12 egg whites (at room temperature)
- 1/3 cup warm water (just warm to the touch)
- 1 teaspoon orange extract, or extract of your choice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
Remove eggs from refrigerator. Separate the eggs using the three bowl method (one to hold the yokes, one to hold the whites, and one to separate a single egg at a time). I actually lost one egg white to yolk contamination and had to throw it away, meaning that I used only 11 egg whites. Eggs are easier to separate when cold, but they are easier to beat when they are at room temperature, so separate the eggs first and allow them to warm up while you are working on the rest of the preparation.
Mr. Brown says that an angel food cake pan holds about 18 cups. My standard sized loaf pans hold 6 cups of water with a little room to spare. That means I need three loaf pans. As you can see in the picture above, the two pans on the right are old non-stick pans (silicone rubber coated steel) and the one on the left is tin-plated steel. Angel food cake needs to cling to the sides of the pan to help it rise to great heights, so pans are not greased for angel food cake. I wasn’t sure how the non-stick pans would do, but this is an experiment!
To allow removal of the cake from the pans, I cut a piece of parchment paper for the bottom of each pan. I put a few drops of vegetable oil in each pan first, to hold the parchment paper in place and to keep it from curling up. The “sticky” pan on the left has the largest piece of parchment – it went up the sides a little.
To help the sugar mix and dissolve, it needs to have smaller crystals. You can buy superfine sugar, but why stock such a specialty item when you can easily make it? Place the sugar in a food processor and whir for about 2 minutes. (You can probably do this in a blender, but you may need to do the sugar in several small batches.)
Sift half of the sugar with the salt and the cake flour, setting the rest of the sugar aside.
Now it’s time to beat the egg whites. If they aren’t already in the mixing bowl, place them there now. Add the water, extract, and cream of tartar. Mr. Brown recommends starting the egg beating with a hand whisk for a couple of minutes and then switching to a hand mixer. I used my stand mixer. I started it slowly and found that the cream of tarter tended to clump, so I stopped the mixer and used a hand whisk for a minute. I resumed beating with the stand mixer and ramped the speed to medium. Slowly sift in the reserved sugar, beating continuously at medium speed (this part would have been easier with the hand mixer, as my stand mixer doesn’t have much room for a sifter over the top of the bowl). Continue beating until you have reached medium peaks.
Now comes the folding. Remove the bowl of egg whites from the mixer. Sift enough of the flour mixture over the top of the egg whites to dust the top. Gently fold in the flour with a rubber spatula (cut down from the center, rotate spatula about 90 degrees so it will cut or slide, move the spatula across the bottom, lift up along the outside, and rotate to fold over). Rotate the bowl about 1/4 turn and repeat a couple of times until the dusting of flour mixture is pretty much incorporated.
Repeat the dust and fold steps until all the flour mixture is incorporated into the foam. Yes, this takes a few minutes. I may have over folded mine a little.
Carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared pans. As I filled the pans, it looked like two pans would be about right, so I didn’t fill the third pan. I might have used the third pan if I hadn’t been short one egg white.
The original recipe said to bake for 35 minutes. Since I was using two smaller pans, I thought I should cut the time to 30 minutes as using multiple pans generally means that they will cook faster.
About half way through cooking, I turned on the oven light and looked through the window. Both pans were puffed way up over the top of the pans! I had planned to cool the cakes by turning them upside down on a wire rack, but with the cake rising out of the pan, that wouldn’t work. Thinking quickly, I got out a couple of rimmed half sheet pans and a couple of wooded cutting boards. I put the sheet pans upside down on the counter and put one cutting board on top of each sheet pan. That looked like enough height. I separated the two “stands” to about the width of the loaf pans (long ways) so that the handles on the ends of the loaf pans would be supported and the cake would hang down into the open space between the “stands”.
(At this time, there was this wonderful aroma filling the kitchen. It was a little like a toasted marshmallow smell. Toward the end of the cooking time, the aroma changed and became less marshmallow like.)
At 30 minutes, I checked each cake by sticking a spaghetti strand down into the middle and noticed that it came out clean; the cakes were done!
I pulled the “sticky” pan out of the oven and carefully inverted it onto my stands, adjusting the stand spacing. When I got back to the open oven door, the non-stick pan was deflating back to about even with the height of the pan. Grimacing, I positioned the pan next to its companion. The deflated cake regained some of its lost height. Crossing my fingers, I let them cool for at least 1/2 hour.
I came back some time into the cooling time, and the cake in the “sticky” pan had fallen out of the pan! The sides were still stuck to the sides of the pan, but the rest of the cake had broken away from the layer on most of the sides. I let them both cool, and then turned them back upright. Some of the brown top had stuck to the counter, but the cake was still puffed up over the pans edge. It looked like it suffered a little compression.
After removing the cakes from the pans, I sliced the end off of each loaf. The non-stick pan loaf had deflated again, so that the top was flat. Both loaves had packet in bottom from (I assume) the parchment paper not allowing the cake to stick to the bottom during the inverted cooling.
Now for the tasting! Both loaves were quite tasty. The orange extract lent just a hint of orange flavor to the cake. The cake from the “sticky” pan was lighter and airier, but also was structurally weaker then the non-stick pan cake. All in all, I was happy with the results. They should make a good platform for strawberries and whipped cream.
Next time, I would recommend making sure that the parchment paper on the bottom of the loaf pans is slightly smaller than the bottom of the pan.