Angel food cake, despite its name, is best served naked


April 13, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Angel food cake improves with age. As the age of the eater increases, so does the level of appreciation for the cake.

When I was a kid, angel food never made my most-favored cake list. It seemed like a pretend cake to me, more like spongy white bread than dessert.

Now, as a veteran eater, I regard angel food cake as celestial stuff.

I have been spending time thinking about angel food cake. I probably should be analyzing weighty matters like whether my state and federal withholding is at the proper level, or whether my IRA is performing up to market expectations. But these are intangibles. And the angel food cake sitting on the kitchen is palpable. As a matter of fact, one of the delights of angel food cake is touching it. When you push it down, it springs back.

That is probably another reason experienced eaters appreciate angel food cake. When you are young, you take resilience for granted. But the longer you hang around, the more you marvel at the ability of anything, or anybody, to bounce back.

Angel food cake also has a good sense of timing. Unlike the fabled German chocolate cake or the temperamental banana cake with whipped cream, angel food cake rarely shows up at a celebration.

More often than not, the motivating instinct behind the creation of an angel food cake is the practical, not the artistic. You make it to use up leftover egg whites.

The one my wife made recently used 12 egg whites we found while cleaning out the freezer. They were leftovers from the yolk-only eggnog made at Christmas.

Angel food cake is rarely considered "drop dead gorgeous." You can dress it up. My wife said her mother used to dye angel food cake red and cover it with white frosting. This was called a "Waldorf-Astoria" cake. But angel food cakes, like men in tuxedos, look best when colors are simple and classic: black for tuxedos, white for angel food cakes.

The simple, classic appearance of angel food cake sometimes works against it. When I was a kid, one reason I didn't care for angel food cake was it didn't have icing. That was when I was in my "frosted phase." Anything that had frosting was my friend. Anything that didn't did not merit consideration as dessert.

Now my feelings about frosting on angel food cake have changed. I welcome angel food cake without icing. The flavor of vanilla extract in the cake comes through better when it does not have to battle the flavor of frosting. I even appreciate the fact that the cake has to hang upside down for an hour and a half. Good things in life require occasional contortions.

And, so when my wife made the angel food cake recipe in Marcia Adams "Cooking from Quilt Country" (Clarkson N. Potter, $25), it did not surprise me that the kids were not crazy about it. They ate it. But they regarded it primarily as something to soak up their ice cream, or accompany their strawberries. They were reluctant to eat a naked slice. That meant more angel food cake for me. Which is another way of saying that aging has its rewards.

Mile high angel food cake

Serves 12

1 1/2 cups (11-14) egg whites

1 1/8 cups sifted cake flour

1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Let egg whites, not a speck of yolk, come to room temperature in large mixing bowl. Sift flour and 3/4 cup of the sugar together five times. Add salt to egg whites and, using mixer at medium speed, beat until foamy. Sprinkle in cream of tartar and extracts.

Continue beating until whites are stiff and standing in peaks, about 3 minutes, but don't overbeat. Gradually increase mixer speed to medium-high, sprinkle in the remaining 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat only until sugar is blended, about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn mixer to low and sprinkle in sifted flour-sugar mixture. Beat only enough to blend, about 1 1/2 minutes, scraping bowl to speed the process. Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch tube plan and draw a thin spatula around the pan in circular motion 3 times.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Turn off oven, let cake sit in oven 5 more minutes. Remove and set pan upside down to cool and set cake. If pan does not have feet attached to side for this purpose, place it over an inverted funnel or empty bottle. Cake should hang about 1 1/2 hours.

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