Sunday, April 19, 2009

Angel Food Cake

Well, after about three years of being a committed runner, yesterday I finally experienced a rite of passage that, I believe, makes me authentic. Are you aware that it is Marathon weekend here in Boston? Do you think my experience has something to do with this? No, no. It was this: I bit it. Pretty hard. Twice.

The first time was a solid, Marlee-style high school trip [the kind we used to practice in the back yard where we'd intentionally--intentionally--trip over our own feet. For the life of me I cannot now recall why we did this. I think it was our intention to perfect the trip in private, then pull it out in public where it would fulfill its most awkward and hilarious potential]. So I caught my own shoelace in a crosswalk. Note: crosswalks are in streets made of asphalt. Later, I failed to scale a stray root on the Esplanade and successfully frightened a tourist family who rushed to my aid.

Why am I telling you this? For two reasons: one, because my hands (among other parts) are scraped and damaged to high heaven, which makes cooking tricky; and two, because despite (because of?) this condition I felt I deserved cake. What better confection than one for which the mixer does all the work?!

Inspired by the buckets of cast-off egg whites I periodically slog home from my new job, I've been mentally planning Angel Food for about a week. Turns out, it takes very little effort, but lots and lots of patience. When you're beating egg whites, you have to be sure to add the sugar very slowly, then it bakes for an hour and cools another two. BUT, when it's done, you have a heavenly cloud of cake that is certainly not healthy (read: 1 1/2 cups sugar), but tastes light as air.

Angel Food Cake
(from Cook's Illustrated)
12 egg whites (about 1 3/4 cups), room temperature
1 cup sifted cake flour (this means sift first, then measure)
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 tsp cream of tartar
pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ. If your tube pan doesn't have a removable bottom (like mine), cut a parchment or wax paper ring and set it down inside. Put egg whites in bowl of mixer and turn on low to get frothy.
  2. Meanwhile, measure out 3/4 cup of the sugar for the whites. Mix the other 3/4 cup with the cake flour. Have a sieve on hand.
  3. When the eggs are frothy, add tartar and salt and pump up to medium speed. Mix until "billowy" the recipe says. Still on medium speed, slowly add the 3/4 cup of sugar 1 Tbsp at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are at soft peaks.
  4. Remove bowl from mixer and sift flour/sugar mixture over the beaten whites 4-5 shakes at a time, gently folding to combine before adding more. Be patient and fold slowly but thoroughly. Pour into prepared pan and tap against counter 3 times to eliminate any large, lurking air bubbles. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until cake springs back when pressed.

  5. When done, immediately invert pan onto a wine bottle or, in my case, two overturned bowls. You want air circulating all around the cake. Let cool completely, up to 2 hours.
  6. To extract, run a knife around the sides and center, and dump out onto a platter. Slice, or rather saw, with a serrated knife. Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream or chocolate sauce, or berry compote, or jam, or whatever you can dream up.

As you can see, my cake got a little saggy. I can think of two reasons for this: (1) I did not have the requisite 1 tsp of cream of tartar and used only a fraction of what the recipe called for. Oops. (2) I did not have my act together when it was time to take the cake out and invert it, so it had a few moments to sink while I was scrambling around looking for something to flip it on to. Plan better than I did, ok?

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