Angel food cake, or angel cake, is a type of sponge cake made with egg whites, flour, and sugar. A whipping agent, such as cream of tartar, is commonly added. It differs from other cakes because it uses no butter. Its structure comes from whipped egg whites known as a protein foam. 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 is usually baked in a tube pan, a tall, round pan with a tube up the center 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 center 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 (Alton Brown in particular) have popularized the idea of adding aromatic spices such as mace and cloves to the cake.
ANGEL FOOD CAKE with THREE-BERRY COMPOTE RECIPE:
- 10 large egg whites, at room temperature (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup cake flour
- 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For berry COMPOTE:
- 2 pints strawberries, sliced
- 2 pints raspberries
- 1 pint blackberries
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350F/176C. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until firm peaks form. Add the granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating for 10 seconds before adding more. Beat in the vanilla. Once all of the sugar has been added, beat the whites at high speed until stiff, about 4 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour with the confectioners’ sugar and salt. Sift the dry ingredients over the beaten whites in 3 batches, folding gently with a large spatula until incorporated. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan (do not use nonstick). Bake for 40 minutes, until the cake is risen and golden. Invert the cake in the pan onto a bottle neck and let cool.
- In a large saucepan, combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice and simmer until the juices are released, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.
- Using a knife, loosen the cake from the pan and remove the side of the pan. Loosen the cake from the pan bottom and the tube. Transfer the cake to a plate. Slice the cake and serve with the warm compote.
The cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 2 days. The compote can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; rewarm before serving, if desired.