For some reason, I had a stockpile of limes and I’m not too sure where they all came from. Some were leftover from a party, some from Memorial Day weekend and the rest … beats me. Regardless of how they appeared, the reality was a large bowl in my fridge that needed to be dealt with. Instantly I thought cake. Cake and strawberries, since I had a lot of those too.
At lunch recently with some pastry chef friends, we started talking about angel food cake. There was a birthday order on the horizon and one friend had brought another the special pan with the feet required to make such a cake. Discussion ensued. None of us could recall the last time we’d made an angel food cake. Seriously. We sort of looked at each other dumbfounded and realized it had been years on all counts. Too bad I thought; I used to like angel food.
Back in college, it was the only dessert a lot of my friends would eat under the pretense that it was “fat free”. High in sugar didn’t seem to factor into the equation but those were the days before we had heard of glycemic indexes and such. As long as it was fat free, they could eat as much as they wanted. Grocery store versions were purchased, divvied up then demolished in no time. To be truthful, those store cakes weren’t very good. They still aren’t. Spongy, cottony and overly sweet, there’s not much going on. Such a waste.
So I dug out my grandmother’s tube pan, unearthed my old recipe and gave it a go. It was OK. Better than Jewel’s but there was room for improvement. I remembered watching someone make a version on the America’s Test Kitchen program so I looked it up and realized where my recipe went wrong was with the flour – cake flour, not AP, is key. They described AP as resulting in a “Wonder Bread” flavor and texture. They’re right. They also processed the sugar until fine, which is a lot easier than the searching for the special superfine sugar my recipe called for. Other than that, our recipes were essentially the same.
My main problem with their version came with the sheer volume the recipe made. I don’t own a “proper” angel food cake pan because the last thing I need is another cake pan. As I mentioned, I have my grandmother’s tube pan with a removable center insert and it works just fine. The only problem is it’s smaller than the average specialty pan and I tend to forget this, resulting in a cake that explodes all over the oven floor. Great.
So I’ve adapted their recipe to fit my 9 cup pan which, as far as I can tell, is standard for this type of pan. The original recipe calls for a 12 cup pan angel food and those quantities, should you have such a pan, are noted in parenthesis below. As with most egg foam cakes, a tube pan of some sort is essential. That center core ensures the cake will bake properly. Another quirk of this cake is that it needs to cool upside down in the pan, either propped up by the feet if you have that kind or with a wine bottle inserted in the center tube. If left to cool upright, the delicate cake will sink and crush itself. Go figure.
There’s also a lot of hullabaloo about whipping egg whites that tends to scare people off. Relax; keep a few things in mind and you’ll be fine. First, the egg whites, bowl and beaters need to be clean, free of any traces of fat or yolk. When separating eggs, it’s easier to do while they’re cold. To make sure the bowl and beaters are thoroughly clean, add a dash of vinegar and a splash or water and wipe clean with a paper towel. The vinegar will remove any trace amounts of fat and that little residual acidity will help the egg whites whip. Also make sure not to overbeat the whites – overwhipped, they’ll be dry, look like Styrofoam and will make a tough cake. I like to beat on medium speed to create a more stable foam with smaller bubbles and whip just until soft peaks, when the whites look creamy and fall into soft mounds in the bowl. Another test is what I call “the Dairy Queen”: when the whisk is pulled directly from the bowl, the tip will form a little “Dairy Queen” type of curl, like the top of a soft serve ice cream cone. Make sense?
To add some flavor, I’ve added lime zest to the batter, a puckery lime glaze to the finished cake and served it with some lightly sweetened strawberries. It was amazing and surprisingly moist. That thing stayed fresh, tightly covered, for a good week and I made a serious dent in it all by myself. After all, according to my college girlfriends, it is fat free you know. It is the perfect cake to have around this summer, ready to whack off a piece here or there as desired.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SUMMER PERFECTION. Angel Food is the perfect foil for the masses of summer berries and stone fruit that are about to descend on us all. It’s essentially a blank canvas waiting to be dressed up. The lime I’ve worked in adds just enough zip to make it interesting and compliments berries particularly well. The glaze also helps keep the cake moist, extending its shelf life. If you have a bunch of egg whites leftover from other projects – custards, ice creams, what have you – save them and make this cake. Do it anyway. It’s extremely delicious. And did I mention it’s fat free?
LIME ANGEL FOOD CAKE – adapted from this ATK recipe
makes one 9″ cake
NOTE: the recipe below is for a standard 9 cup tube pan with measurements for a standard 12 cup angel food pan in parenthesis
for the cake:
¾ cup + 1 Tablespoon cake flour (1 cup + 2 Tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt (¼ teaspoon)
1 1/3 cup sugar (1¾ cups)
1 ½ Tablespoons lime zest, from about 3 limes (2 Tablespoons)
9 large egg whites (12 large egg whites)
1 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (1 ½ teaspoons)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)
for the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
zest of 1 lime (zest before juicing)
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
pinch of kosher salt
for the berries:
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 Tablespoons sugar
pinch of kosher salt
squeeze of lime juice
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and pre-heat oven to 325°F.
- for the cake: Whisk flour and salt in bowl and set aside until needed.
- Process sugar in food processor until fine, powdery and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reserve half of sugar in small bowl.
- Add the flour mixture to the food processor with remaining sugar and process until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- With a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low until foamy then add the cream of tartar.
- Increase speed to medium and slowly add the reserved sugar (not the flour mixture) and beat until soft peaks form, about 5-7 minutes. The whites should look soft and creamy, forming soft mounds in the bowl.
- On low, add the vanilla and lime zest.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift the flour mixture over egg whites in 3 additions, folding gently with rubber spatula after each addition until incorporated. Do not overmix.
- Scrape mixture into 9 cup ungreased tube pan. Make sure pan is only ¾ full. If you have extra batter, don’t force it, rather bake in a separate pan.
- Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cracks in cake appear dry, 40-45 minutes.
- Cool, inverted on a wine bottle, to room temperature, about 3 hours.
- To unmold, carefully run a sharp knife along interior of pan. Turn out onto platter.
- for the glaze: in a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, lime juice, zest and pinch of salt until smooth and pourable.
- Pour the glaze evenly over the top of the cake and let dry until set, about 1 hour.
- for the berries: combine all the ingredients and let sit until the berries release their juices.
- Cut the cake gently with a clean serrated knife and serve with the sweetened berries. Keep leftover cake tightly covered and it will last several days.