Angel food cake, or angel cake, is a type of sponge cake made with stiffly beaten egg whites with no butter added. Angel food cake originated in the United States and first became popular in the late 19th century. It gained its unique reputation along with its name due to its light and fluffy texture, said to resemble the “food of the angels”.
Angel food cake requires egg whites whipped until they are stiff; cream of tartar is added to the mixture to stabilise the egg whites. Remaining ingredients are gently folded into the egg white mixture. For this method of leavening to work well, it is useful to have flour that has been made of softer wheat; cake flour is generally used because of its light texture. The softer wheat and the lack of fat causes angel food cake to have a very light texture and taste.
Angel food cake should be cut with a serrated knife, as a straight-edged blade tends to compress the cake rather than slice it.
Angel food cake is usually baked in a tube pan, a tall, round pan with a tube up the centre that leaves a hole in the middle of the cake. A bundt pan may also be used, but the fluted sides can make releasing the cake more difficult. The centre tube allows the cake batter to rise higher by ‘clinging’ to all sides of the pan. The angel food cake pan should not be greased, unlike pans used to prepare other cakes, this allows the cake to have a surface upon which to crawl up helping it to rise. After baking, the cake pan is inverted while cooling to prevent the cake from falling in on itself. Angel food cake is sometimes frosted but more often has some sort of sauce, such as a sweet fruit sauce, drizzled over it. A simple glaze is also popular. Recently, many chefs have popularised the idea of adding aromatic spices such as mace and cloves to the cake.
Angel Food Cake History
Angel food cake is a white sponge cake made with only stiffly beaten egg whites (yolks would make it yellow and inhibit the stiffening of the whites) and no butter. The first recipe in a cookbook for a white sponge cake is in Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky Housewife of 1839. Since there is no butter in the cake, the angel food cake is not related to the butter cakes: snow-drift cake, silver cake or lady cake.
The Home Messenger Book of Tested Recipes, 2nd ed., 1878, by Isabella Stewart contained the first recipe for Angel’s Food Cake. Stewart’s detailed recipe called for eleven egg whites, sugar, flour, vanilla extract and cream of tartar.
- 2 cups sifted caster sugar, divided
- 1⅓ cups sifted cake flour
- 1 ½ cups egg whites, at room temperature (10 - 12 eggs)
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
- ½ cup icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon very finely shredded lemon peel
- 1½ - 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 -3 small lemons
- ¼ cup sugar
- Preheat the oven to 175°C.
- Combine ½ cup of sugar with the flour and sift together 4 times. Set aside.
- Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs make medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 1 ½ cups of sugar by sprinkling it over the beaten egg whites. Whisk for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Whisk in the vanilla and lemon zest and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute. Sift about ¼ of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour by fourths by sifting and folding until it's all incorporated.
- Pour the batter into an ungreased 26cm angel food cake pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 - 40 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack until cool.
- In a small bowl, combine ½ cup icing sugar and 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel.
- Stir in enough lemon juice to reach drizzling consistency.
- Line a 27 x 39 x 2.5 cm baking pan with baking paper.
- Cut lemons crosswise into 3mm-thick slices.
- Arrange in a single layer on pan. Sprinkle lemon slices with sugar.
- Bake in preheated 135°C oven 45 - 50 minutes or until lemon slices are almost dry and covered with a sugary glaze.
Once cool, use a sharp cake spatula or butter knife to cut around the edges of the pan before removing.