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Angel food cake is a type of foam cake that became popular in the U.S. in the late 19th century. It is sometimes referred to as Angel Cake and named because of its airy, light texture and taste is said to be the "food of the angels." It is one of the most versatile cake choices around, leavened from lots of stiffly beaten egg whites (typically a dozen) beaten with sugar, or a meringue, folded with very little bleached cake flour. The cakes are mostly simply flavored with different extracts, such as vanilla, almond, lemon or orange. Small amounts of cream of tartar and salt are added. It is also fat free and fits in with any diet.
Angel food cake batters can be easily flavored with other ingredients, folded into the meringue base, such as crushed peppermint candies, finely chopped well-drained maraschino cherries, grated semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips. Recently, many have popularized the idea of adding aromatic spices such as cinnamon, mace and cloves.
Angel Food Cake batter is baked in a non-greased two-part tube pan, a tall, round pan with a conical tube up the center that leaves a hole in the middle of the cake. The special pan allows the cake batter to rise higher by 'clinging' to all sides of the pan and prevents it from falling on itself because it contains very little flour, and therefore very little of the structural building network called gluten. The pan is inverted while cooling to prevent the cake from falling in on itself and to help stretch and set the delicate foam.
A simple garnish of fresh fruit complements any angel food cake. It 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. Angel food cake should be cut with a serrated knife, as a solid blade tends to compress the cake rather than slice it. Forks, electric serrated knives, special tined cutters or a strong thread should be used instead.
An angel food cake is a meringue with added cake flour for stability and its tender texture. Egg white proteins and the starch and protein of flour are incorporated into the watery film around air cells to contribute to stability. Leavening is performed by the air in the meringue and steam. Angel Food recipes have you fold the sifted flour into the beaten egg whites, gingerly.
EGGS: Use large Grade A eggs.
FLOUR: Angel Food cakes typically call for bleached cake flour, but some can be made with all-purpose. Follow the recipe's instructions.
SUGAR: Super-fine (superfine or super fine) sugar is preferred because it dissolves readily. Sugar is added not only for its flavoring action and stabilizing effect on egg white proteins, but it also acts as a tenderizer, counterbalancing the drying effects of egg white protein and gluten formation from flour. It also raises the coagulation temperature of the egg proteins and the gelatinization of the flour's starches. Sugar contributes further to the stability to the foam through the incorporation of air into the mixture as it is added, which allows for the formation of tiny air bubbles.
CREAM OF TARTAR: Cream of tartar is usually added to lower the pH and thus stabilize and whiten the foam and produce a finer grained cake. Substitute it with lemon juice or white distilled vinegar.
SALT: Being debated, salt should not be added directly to the egg whites. Instead, we add it in with the flour and dry ingredients.
SARAH'S TIPS FOR ANGEL FOOD CAKE SUCCESS:
- Proper mixing technique is essential: the sugar is added after the egg whites have begun to foam. It needs to be added gradually, otherwise it will pull water from the egg whites, creating a syrupy foam and creating a low-volume cake.
-The cake flour is sifted over the beaten egg white foam to prevent its weight from collapsing the air cells.
SARAH SAYS: We have a new easy-to-mix mixing method which we call "Easy Mix Method for Angel Food Cakes." No more folding the flour and dry ingredients into whipped egg whites! The result is a towering and super-moist cake, while most Angel Food Cakes are drier. Go to our Easy Mix Angel Food Cake Recipe Tutorial.
-The ingredients must be thoroughly blended, while avoiding over-manipulation, which would reduce volume and tenderness.
-The cake batter should completely fill its ungreased pan. A spatula is run through the batter, sealing it to the sides of the pan.
-Baking time is approximately 45 minutes and the finished cake should be golden brown on all surfaces.
-The cake should be inverted in its pan and allowed to stand for about an hour to 1 1/2 hours in this position to stretch and strengthen its structure.
-The crumb should be slightly moist and white, but tight with tiny, consistently sized air holes and soft.
-The cake should be spongy, slightly chewy and sweet, with a nice hint of flavoring. Cut the cake with a serrated knife using a sawing motion.
WHAT HAPPENS WHILE IT BAKES?
During baking, the Angel Food Cake batter rises and relies on the additional support of the central tube of the Tube pan. As the cake bakes, the proteins coagulate, stabilizing the air cells; water evaporates from the fluid mixture to create a more rigid structure; starch gelatinizes, further contributing to the structure; and browning occurs on its surface due to the Maillard reaction.
If the oven is too cold, a low-volume cake will result because the sugar will absorb liquid from the egg whites, turn syrupy, weep out of the batter, and disrupt the air cells. An oven that is too hot will set the cake's exterior before the cake has had a chance to fully expand and bake through, resulting in a low-volume, dense cake.
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