Episode 47 – “Let Them Eat Foam”

Posted: September 29, 2015 in Season 4
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It seems odd to write a blog post about a recipe I prepared a mere 10 days ago, while it feels like my entire life has changed since then. Ted went under the knife five days ago to have a massive operation to remove the cancer from his body. He still lies in a hospital bed as I type, and likely will be there for at least a few more days. The excellent news is that they got all of the cancer out and there was zero lymph node involvement. The bad news is that he feels quite miserable. Hopefully he’ll be feeling better soon. Until then, I’ll reminisce about Alton’s angel food cake that we ate 10 days ago.

Angel Food Cake

I vaguely remember my mom making angel food cake a few times when I was little, but it was never something we ate regularly. My image of angel food cake has been primarily of the dry, sponge-like, flavorless cakes you can buy in every grocery store bakery in the country. That’s not to say that I dislike those cakes, but just that they don’t wow me. How would Alton’s recipe for angel food cake stack up?

To make Alton’s angel food cake, start by processing 1 3/4 C of sugar in a food processor for two minutes; this will give sugar with finer crystals, yielding between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 C of sugar.

Ingredients for Alton's angel food cake:  cake flour, egg whites, salt, sugar, cream of tartar, and orange extract.

Ingredients for Alton’s angel food cake: cake flour, egg whites, salt, sugar, cream of tartar, and orange extract.

Sugar into food processor.

Sugar into food processor.

Sugar after processing for two minutes.

Sugar after processing for two minutes.

Sift approximately half of this sugar (set the other half aside) with 1/4 t of salt and 1 C of cake flour. A lot of sugar is needed in angel food cake because there is no fat; the sugar acts as a tenderizer. Cake flour is used here because it has no protein, which means no gluten is produced.

Half of the sugar sifted with cake flour and salt.

Half of the sugar sifted with cake flour and salt.

Next, you will need a dozen egg whites at room temperature (room temperature egg whites are more flexible, so they foam better). Alton encourages you to separate your eggs using three containers:  a container over which you separate each white (to make sure no yolk slips in), a container to contain the yolks, and a container for the yolk-free whites. Why is it so critical to avoid having yolk mixed in with your whites? The yolks contain fat, which lubes the bonding points on the proteins in the whites, causing the bubbles to pop. Since angel food cake is a foam, the ultimate goal is bubbles.

Separating yolks and whites.

Separating yolks and whites.

Once your egg whites are at room temperature, add 1/3 C of warm water, 1 t orange extract, and 1 1/2 t cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is a mild acid, made of tartaric acid crystals, that stabilizes foams by adding hydrogen atoms.

Egg whites with warm water, orange extract, and cream of tartar added.

Egg whites with warm water, orange extract, and cream of tartar added.

Use a whisk to froth this egg white mixture. Once frothy, whip the whites with a hand mixer on medium speed.

Whites beaten with a whisk until frothy.

Whites beaten with a whisk until frothy.

While mixing, slowly add the remaining sugar. When your egg whites have soft peaks, decrease the speed on the mixer to avoid overbeating. Stop mixing when you have reached medium peaks.

Whites after reaching medium peaks.

Whites after reaching medium peaks.

Again, sift the flour mixture, but sift it over the top of the batter, just dusting the top.

Dusting the top of the batter with sifted flour mixture.

Dusting the top of the batter with sifted flour mixture.

Use a spatula to gently fold the flour into the whites, just until not visible.

Folding in the flour mixture.

Folding in the flour mixture.

Repeat until all of the flour is incorporated. Gently spoon the batter into an ungreased tube pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out almost dry. My cake was ready after 35 minutes.

The final batter, spooned into a tube pan.

The final batter, spooned into a tube pan.

Cake after baking 35 minutes.

Cake after baking 35 minutes.

Remove your cake from the oven and invert it on the back of a sheet pan. My cake pan has feet for this purpose. The cake needs to be inverted or it will collapse. Let the cake cool completely.

Cake inverted to cool completely.

Cake inverted to cool completely.

To remove the cake from the pan, you will need to run a knife around the edges, as the cake will be stuck from “climbing” the walls of the pan. While you certainly could serve your cake with accompaniments, we chose to eat ours plain.

Alton's angel food cake.

Alton’s angel food cake.

A slice of angel food cake.

A slice of angel food cake.

I have to say that Alton’s angel food cake is so much better than anything you can buy. It is moist, airy, and sweet, and has just the right hint of orange flavor. You could use any extract you would like to flavor your cake. While I still won’t be making angel food cake regularly, Alton’s version is quite delicious, and should I need an angel food cake in the future, this is the recipe I will use.

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