Be it ever so humble, there’s no dessert like Angel Food Cake.
This could be, quite possibly, our household’s all around favorite treat. I mean, it’s the one that EVERYONE can agree on. My husband can walk past a pan of brownies (what?! I know!), my kids will turn their noses to a sweet summer lemon bar, but this. This. No one will say no to this.
It disappears in less than 24 hours around here.
And that’s if we are modest.
By far, this is my husband’s favorite dessert. He used to buy the tins from the grocery store All. The. Time. He couldn’t walk past them without picking one up. He knew I liked baking so at one point he said, “You should try to make a home made angel food cake.”
Oh, did I go through the recipes, cracking eggs open, separating the whites, wasting the yolks. All purpose flour, cake flour, granulated sugar, superfine sugar. You name it, I tried it. But there was always something amiss about the finished cake: too dense, not sweet enough, too sweet, too bland- well, you get the idea.
But then this happened.
And I’ve never made angel food cake any other way. Period. I’ve made this so many times I could do it in my sleep. Seriously. On an annual basis, I probably make this at least 15 times. At least. Definitely more than once a month, on average. I mean, our little family of 4 can go through it in a day. A Day. I’ve made angel food cakes on back to back days because it has disappeared so quickly. I take it to parties. It’s my go to dessert if we are having people over for dinner. There isn’t a holiday that goes by that an angel food cake isn’t on the dessert table. And it is, of course, my husbands request for his birthday cake.
And you won’t believe just how easy this is. You don’t even crack a single egg.
Now, you are probably saying to yourself, “but don’t I need like a gazillion egg whites to make an angel food cake? After all, that is the main reason I never make it- I don’t want to separate all those eggs. And what do you do with those yolks???”
Look, friends. Scramble yourself some eggs for breakfast, the head to the store and get one of those little cartons of egg whites, then go home and make this.
I know, I know. You are saying, “But isn’t there some snippet on the carton that says something about them not being recommended for angel food cakes?” Yes, you are right, there is a little disclaimer. I’ve seen it too. And I chuckle every time I toss those little cartons in my cart just for that purpose. One small 16 oz carton of egg whites is just perfect for this recipe.
And everything else you need is pretty much pantry staples.
I will make one note. I have always made this using a stand mixer. I’m sure a hand held mixer will work just as well, you just do need a means to really whip your egg whites.
Start by letting your carton of egg whites come to room temperature. I usually leave it out on the counter for about an hour. If you skip this step- no worries, your cake will still turn out just fine. But not only will room temperature egg whites begin to fluff up more quickly, it will also help produce a more airy cake in the end.
Add a bit of cream of tarter and salt and start whipping. Turn your mixer on slowly because you don’t want splatter everywhere. One they start to foam up and begin to turn white, go ahead and crank up your mixer to full speed.
At this point you are mixing to soft peaks. So you want to get past the foamy stage, but not have whipped them so much that your beater could stand upright by itself in it. I usually gauge this by the streaks my whisk is leaving in its path. When you first start beating the egg whites, it’s just like any liquid, and you can’t see the path your whisk is taking. Once the egg whites start to firm up, they’ll look less foamy and more “soft” and you’ll begin to see the tracks of your whisk. Also, when you lift your whisk out, some of the beaten egg whites will stay put on the tip of the whisk, but if you tried to scoop your mixture out with your whisk, most of it would fall back into the bowl.
It’s at this point you want to slowly start adding your granulated sugar. I usually turn the mixer off, add about 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, and gradually turn my mixer back on to high speed. I let it whip for about a minute, and repeat the process until all my sugar is incorporated. Unless you have a shield (or you drape a kitchen towel over your mixer) it is a bad idea to add the sugar while the mixer is running otherwise your kitchen will be splattered with tiny sticky, sugar/egg white droplets everywhere. Don’t ask me how I know.
You want to make sure you whip in your sugar well for two reasons. First, the sugar will dissolve as you whip it into your egg whites, so you want to make sure you incorporate it well. You don’t want any gritty sugar granules left behind. Second, the sugar will help you get to nice, stiff, peaks, which is what we want for our cake batter.
Amazing, right? That right there . . . just egg white and sugar.
Again, I like to watch the tracks my whisk is leaving behind. As you incorporate your sugar you’ll notice your egg whites getting fuller and you’ll really start to notice the tracks that your whisk is leaving behind. Almost always my egg whites/sugar will get so full that is start to come up over the top edge of my whisk. When you stop mixing, and you pull out your beater, a lot of the batter should stay on your whisk. You should be able to scoop it out with a whisk without it all falling back into the bowl. And you should be able to flip your whisk upright and the batter should keep a nice firm peak at the top. If it flops over too much and still seems to soft, keep beating it, checking every minute or two to see if it has firmed up.
Every angel food cake is different. Sometimes my egg whites beat up super quick. Sometimes I need to be more patient with them. Humidity really does affect this process. On more humid days, I usually do need to whip everything a bit longer. Dryer days, it all comes together quite quickly. Also, having your egg whites at room temperature really helps you here too. Cold egg whites will take a bit more time to all come together.
At this point, I like to add my extracts and give them a quick stir with the mixer. Your eggs will deflate just a bit, but I’ve found this the best way to thoroughly incorporate the flavorings.
You can put your mixer away at this point. You need to gently fold in your flour/powdered sugar in small batches- I usually do this in 4 batches. As tempting as it may be, you do not want to use the mixer for this part. You will indeed deflate all that nice air
you have your mixer has whipped into those whites. Not to mention all the flour that will fly around your kitchen. Just don’t do it.
All that’s left is to get it in the oven.
A word about ovens. Although this recipe is very forgiving and not finicky (especially as far as Angel Food Cakes are concerned), you do need to watch you oven temperatures here. In one oven I had at our first home, I would bake this at 370 F for 37 minutes. Came our perfect every time. For that oven, 370 F for 37 minutes was the magic formula. An older oven we had at our current house, I baked at 375 F for 38 minutes. Not that much of an adjustment, but it was the sweet spot for that oven. About a year ago I got a new oven and it has taken several oven setting adjustments and temp/time combo attempts to get it right (not that my family is complaining- they all still turned out quite tasty!). This oven- 365 F for 37 minutes is what it takes.
In the early days, I never had an oven thermometer, so I can’t speak to what my oven temperatures actually were in those first 2 ovens. I do have an oven thermometer with my current oven, so I do keep an eye on it. I found that 370-375 F was just too hot- my outside was burning before the inside was done. 350 seemed just too low- it didn’t sink completely, but the top was flatter and I lost those beautiful deep crevases and cracks. 365 seems to be the happy medium.
When I see that cake rise above the pan like that, I know I got it right. This is exactly half way through my baking time. Now it will come down a bit as it finishes baking, so don’t be disappointed that your cake doesn’t stay that high. If at this point you start to get that burnt sugar smell in your kitchen, your oven temperature is probably a tad too high. You don’t want those caramelized outside edges to get too burnt.
See those nice cracks forming? That is my favorite part- those nice caramelized edged against the soft, fluffy white center. I save that part for last when I eat my slice.
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1½ cup powdered sugar (sometimes called icing sugar)
- 1½ cup egg whites (or 1 16 oz carton pasteurized egg whites), room temperature
- 1½ teaspoon cream of tarter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Adjust oven rack to lowest position in the oven. Preheat to 375 F*
- Sift together the cake flour and powdered sugar. Set aside.
- Add egg whites, cream of tarter, and salt to bowl of stand mixer. Beat at high speed until soft peaks form, approximately 3-5 minutes*
- Gradually add granulated sugar, 2-3 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition (about 1-2 minutes each time)
- After all sugar is added, beat at high speed until stiff peaks form, approximately 3-5 minutes*
- Add both extracts and beat at medium speed for 10 seconds
- Slowly fold in sifted flour/sugar in 3-4 batches.
- Bake in tube pan with removable bottom for 34-38 minutes
- Remove cake from oven and carefully flip upside down to cool completely (I like to prop mine up on a glass)
- To remove from pan, slide a thin spatula (or the dull side of a butter knife) along the edges to loosen it. Lift cake from the sides of the pan. Loosen cake from the bottom of the pan the same way, gently flip upside down release cake from bottom of pan.
*Times are just a guide. Mixing times may vary greatly.
Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens