Monday, April 5, 2010

Devil or Angel, I Can't Make Up My Mind - Angel Food Cake

I am about to expound upon one of my favorite things. Normally, I can safely say that I am not a cake person. I mean, I like to BAKE cakes, and then give them to other people, but I don't really eat them very often myself. I am really more of a pie person... I love pie.

BUT, (there is one of those big buts again) there is one cake that is near and dear to my heart. My Great grandmother baked it, my grandmother bakes it, my mom bakes it and I and my baby brother bakes it. I grew up on this cake. Sometimes it was served with Pineapple Bavarian Creme, but most of the time, it served as the base for Strawberry shortcake - though short would be a grievously inaccurate description of it's heavenly goodness.

I speak of the often misunderstood Angel Food cake. It's a family tradition that is taken so seriously that we engage in height contests. It's all in good fun, but the bragging rights are worth it. LOL

Because of the aforementioned "contest" I have spent a lot of time searching for that elusive "edge" to get that extra 1/2 inch of height that will put me on the podium. Thus I have tried every piece of angel food cake preparation equipment produced by every smarmy kitchen gadget manufacturer on the market. This is where the misunderstanding of angel food cake occurs; due to misinformation perpetrated even by TV celebrity cooks.

My first piece of worthless equipment was to buy a Non-Stick angel food cake pan, cause it would make it easier to remove the cake, right? WRONG! The problem is that most of these, though not all, do not have a removable bottom. This causes to your have to PULL the cake out of the pan, cause is does still stick a little, thus squashing your cake. The second issue is that non-stick coatings are polymers, polymers are very similar to overcooked fats, fats are BAD when it comes egg white foams... Egg whites HATE fat. When an angel food cake rises, it needs to be able to actually climb the pan, this can only happen if it can stick to the side of the pan.

My second piece of cookeware was the silicon angel food pan. Completely worthless. Uneven cooking... Terrible transfer of heat... Scorched but still raw... Nightmare to clean. I own exactly zero pieces of silicon bakeware now. It's all gone, cause none of it worked as was promised, give me good old Wilton cake pans any day.

Through all of this mess, I did discover 1 thing that did help. A copper bowl that I found at Ross for 8 bucks. Yep, only 8 bucks. And while it is pretty thin (I have a smaller but thicker one I found at the Goodwill later) it works VERY well to stabilize my egg foams. Especially after a good scrubbing with distilled vinegar and kosher salt. In fact, it worked so well, that I traveled to a different Ross store to see if I could find another one for my mom. Which I did, though it kind of defeated the purpose of using it as a secret weapon in the height war at that point. (sigh) Oh, well.

The beauty of copper is that it ionizes once exposed to an acid, such as vinegar. These ions actually stabilize the stretching proteins in the egg foam. This leads to less chance of over beating, or breaking, as well as producing a foam that has more ability to stretch. Let's face it, in an angel food cake, your only leavening is the water and air encased within a protein bubble. Proteins that do not stretch, cause broken bubbles. Fewer bubbles, means less height. Repeat after me.... "I love bubbles, bubbles are my friends" ;)

OK, so having established that non-stick sucks, silicon sucks but copper bowls are awesome, what the heck are you suppose to bake your cake in, the copper bowl? Nope, just a good old 2 piece 10 inch aluminum pan. Great-Grandma knew best.

One of the most heinous crimes against angel food cake kind that I have seen, however, is the usage of a straight edged knife to cut it, or rather to squish it. It happens more often that you would think, and it makes me cringe every time I see it. I sometimes wish there was some sort of special forces unit I could call when there is an angel food cake in distress. Always, and I cannot stress this enough, ALWAYS use a heavily serrated knife to cut an angel food cake. Use a sawing motion, like you are cutting bread, but without actually pressing down. Let the knife cut through the cake, not your arm.

OK, I am now of my angel food cake soap box. I cannot help it, I am very passionate about Angel Food cake. ;) So here is how my family and I go about making one... Though I chose to use a funky pan this time. (Yet again, a Goodwill find) It was a 10 inch square tube pan... I've never seen one before and thought it was interesting, so I had to try it. Granted it takes more batter to fill a 10 square than it does a 10 inch round. So my piddly 3 5/8ths inch height is not really reflective of what this recipe will do in the proper sized pan, but I was being lazy and didn't want to sit down and do all the conversions. Next time I use this pan, I will. But the following recipe is still in it's standard 10 inch round tube pan format.

Angel Food Cake

(from hell; LOL)
1 1/2 cup Egg Whites
1 1/2 cup Confectioners' Sugar
1 Cup Cake Flour
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 1/2 tsp Cream of Tarter
1 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Granulated Sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Separate the eggs, while cold, into a clean glass container and let set at room temp while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Combine the Confectioners' Sugar and the Cake Flour in a sifter that has been set on a piece of waxed paper.

Sift the ingredients onto a second piece of waxed paper, then place the sifter back down on the first piece of waxed paper.

Lift the waxed paper by the edges and pour the mixture back into the sifter.

Sift again onto the second piece of waxed paper.

Lift the waxed paper and pour the mixture back into the sifter again.

Sift again onto the waxed paper.

Then pour everything back into the sifter a final time and set aside.

(The first sifting breaks up the ingredients; the second and third sifting mix the ingredients thoroughly)

If you have a copper bowl, you will need to add salt and distilled vinegar, then rub it clean with a paper towel.

Wipe out any residual vinegar with a dry paper towel.

Add the egg whites to the bowl whether copper or simply a clean glass bowl as well as a pinch of salt.

Beat on low speed until they become foamy, then sprinkle with Creme of Tarter and add the Vanilla Extract (adding it ahead adds just a little more water to the mix)

Beat the egg whites again, at medium speed, until they reach soft peaks. (then a peak still bends over)

Begin sprinkling the granulated sugar over the foam, while continuing to mix on low speed.

When your done, they won't really be "glossy" but should have a pearly sheen...

and stay in the bowl when it is tilted 90 degrees.

Grab your largest spatula (cause we are gonna fold in the flour, and the bigger the better)

Sift a little of the dry ingredients over the top of the egg white foam.

Then begin folding the ingredients together. (I always cut down in the middle, scrap along the bottom of the bowl and lift the foam over towards the center with a twist of the wrist; but folding from the side works too, it's one of those personal preference things)

Once the first addition has been mostly incorporated, sift some more of the flour mixture over the top and continue folding.

More flour mixture... More folding.

Remember, to be quick but gentle. (Sorry, I know that's not a very good explanation, but it's the best I can do until I get a video camera)
Once all of the dry ingredients have been folded in you will want to begin washing your pan.
Oh yes, I save it till last, cause you want it to be wet when you add the batter to it.
So, scrub the interior tube with soap and water (You MUST remove all oil and grease) being careful not to touch the interior side of the tube.

Then wash the outer pan, again, clean it well with soap, rinse thoroughly and do not touch the interior surface of the pan (you have oils on your skin that will contaminate the pan)

Assemble the pan while still wet, again, not touching any interior surfaces.

Spoon the batter into the wet pan.

Using a clean butter knife, cut up an down vertically through the batter to remove large air pockets.

Place in the preheated oven, reduce the temperature to 325, and bake for 45-50 minutes.

The cake will rise very high, but as the gluten in the cake begins to set, it will sink a little.

Remove from the oven and cool, upside down, to retain the height achieved in case not all of the gluten has finished setting yet (there will still be some heat carry over)

When the cake is cool, grab a serrated knife.

Cut along the edges of the pan, using vertical strokes, up and down to release the cake from the sides of the pan (don't forget to do this around the tube too)

Place a cake plate over the pan and flip the whole thing over before removing the outer pan.

Using the same serrated knife, cut the cake free from the bottom, using horizontal strokes.

The cake will release itself onto the plate.

Even though I knew it was going to be a shorter cake, I was still little disappointed. But the pan was bigger. When using a 10 inch round I get a good 4 inch high cake, sometimes 4 1/4!

To serve (It's a little too early for strawberries to have good flavor) grab some Raspberries.....

Whip some Heavy Cream with a little Confectioners' Sugar....

For fun, add a hint of St. Germaine instead of Vanilla (I love it's floral aroma with cream and fruit concoctions)

Cut a slice of cake with a serrated knife, using a gentle sawing motion...

Cover with St. Germaine Cream and Fresh Raspberries......

YUM! Sinfully Delicious!

OK, So the cake comb that I blogged about last night works like this.

Impale the cake slice with the fork.

Sort of peel the cake slice to one side to remove a slice.

This sort of "tearing" of the angel food maintains it's fluffiness a little better than actual cutting.



Bob said...

Gorgeous! I enjoy angel food cake, but I've never made one. One of my sisters always got it for her birthday cake, I think because it's not as calorie intensive as chocolate. Heh.

Unknown said...

ooooh YUM!! I love angel food cake...especially for strawberry shortcake! Not being a huge cake fan myself...this one crosses that boundary for sure. I barely consider it a "cake". at least not a conventional cake.

Anonymous said...

How about that eggless version that you promised at some point...

Shane T. Wingerd said...

So far I have had 7 failures with eggless Angel Food cake. I still have a couple of ideas up my sleeve, but I have to order a few things from Rubber Chef. :)