Light as Air: Angel Food Cakes

Angel food cake is light, sweet and absolutely delicious. Perfect for warm weather and fresh fruit.

By FamilyTime

 If you can beat egg whites, you can make a spectacular angel food cake. Before the weather cools off and while fruit is still fresh, juicy and plentiful, try one. Your family will thank you. So will your waistline!

Before you start, there are a few things to know for the best success.

The Foam

Angel food cakes, like sponge cakes and chiffon cakes, are called foam cakes and defined by their batters, which rely on a large proportion of eggs to leaven them.

Angel food cakes use only egg whites for leavening. These are beaten until they form soft, glossy peaks that are just beyond the gloppy stage. This is not a typical meringue. Instead, the whites will easily fall or pour from the bowl with very little help from a rubber spatula.

Unlike other meringues, the whites used for angel food cake should be cold when they are beaten. Cold whites behave themselves more decorously than room temperature ones, which beat to the high, stiff peaks desired for meringue but not for this cake.

The whites are mixed with cream of tartar to stabilize them and to keep them white as snow. And, as with all meringue, the bowl and beaters must be impeccably clean and dry for success.

Careful Folding
When the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and flavorings are beaten to very soft, moist, peaks, it's time to fold in the relatively small amount of flour.

This is best done by sprinkling just a little of the flour (which may be sifted with sugar and a pinch of salt) over the foam and then using a rubber spatula to fold it into the batter. Once one sprinkling is folded in, it's time for the next.

Folding is a learned technique: first cut straight down through the batter with the blade of the spatula, sweep the blade along the bottom of the bowl and then up its side. This motion brings batter from the bottom of the bowl to the surface. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn after each fold.

Folding allows the batter to be mixed without deflating the egg whites more than is appropriate.

Baking and Cooling
Foamy, fulsome angel food cake batter is baked in a tube pan, often called an angel food cake pan. It has a central tube and a flat bottom, which may or may not be removable.

The idea is that both the sides and central tube support the fragile cake as it rises in the oven. The pan is never greased but should be perfectly dry and oil-free.

Cooling the cake is an important step. It's done upside down, so that the cake does not collapse on itself. The pan can rest on its own little feet or can be slung over a tall-neck bottle (wine bottles are traditional). Both methods allow air circulation.

The cake should cool completely. This usually takes about two hours. When it's cool, it should be an easy matter to release it from the pan.

As mentioned, these light, airy cakes are lovely with fresh fruit. They rarely are frosted although they might be dusted with confectioners' sugar or drizzled with a light glaze.

Other than fruit, these are delicious served alongside ice cream, sorbet, or sweetened whipped cream.

Angel food cakes won't slice neatly and cleanly. Pull them apart with a fork or a cake comb, or use a serrated knife and "saw" off pieces.