Angel food cake is a timeless recipe, perfect for the holidays. It bridges generations of home cooks across Canada, and makes fantastic use of staple ingredients which everyone has on hand – eggs, sugar, flour, salt, and cream. I love that something so simple is so delicious.
If you talk to your mom or grandmother, they surely have stories about angel food cake. My mom sure does. Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan meant there were plenty of eggs around. Her mother used the yolks for noodles and the whites were often turned into angel food cake.
They had cows as well, so there was no shortage of whipped cream to be served with the cake. Eventually the cake-making duties fell to my mom, and to this day, nobody makes angel food cake quite like she does.
Angel food cake is a delicate balance of meringue, cake and pastry flour, and a dry, sunny day. Why a sunny day, you ask? Turns out that meringue is tricky to whip up on cloudy, rainy days, so it’s best to avoid making it when the humidity is high. The sugar in the delicate egg-white mixture readily absorbs moisture from the air, which makes it soft and impossible to achieve thick, stiff peaks.
Angel food cake also has other rules, but don’t let that scare you. First off, you need a tube pan with a removable tube. Whatever you do, don’t grease it. The batter needs a dry pan to climb up as it bakes. If there’s any fat, the batter can’t climb and you’ll have a flat, congealed, eggy mess on your hands.
Rule #1: don’t grease the pan.
Rule #2: use cake and pastry flour.
All-purpose is too heavy. Buy a bag and keep it in your freezer if you don’t use it that often.
Rule #3: egg whites must be at room temperature (they don’t beat as well when cold).
Also, add a pinch of cream of tartar to get great volume.
Rule #4: be sure both bowl and beaters are grease-free.
Otherwise, the whites won’t beat very well. Basically, keep all fat away from the cake. Once the cake is baking, try not to open the oven until the 30-minute mark.
This cake is beyond versatile
Angel food cake is super versatile. In the spring and summer I like to cover the cake completely in whipped cream, then top with berries and other fresh fruit. For fall and winter, the cake is gorgeous when served with an apple or pear compote on the side, along with glorious globs of whipped cream. Basically any combination of cake/cream/fruit is a winner.
Generations of Canadians have enjoyed angel food cake this way in the past, and I have a feeling the love is going to continue on far into the future.
1½ cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup cake and pastry flour
1¼ cups (about 10–12) egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp (5 mL) pure almond or vanilla extract, or vanilla bean paste
¼ tsp salt
1¼ tsp cream of tartar
- Preheat the oven to 375° F. Place the rack in the lower third of the oven.
- In a medium bowl, add ½ cup sugar to the flour and stir very well. Set aside.
- Place the egg whites, almond extract, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until the whites are foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat the whites on high speed to medium stiffness. Gradually, with the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining cup of sugar, 1 Tbs at a time. After all of the sugar has been added, beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, 2–3 minutes.
- Gently fold the flour/sugar mixture in by hand, using a rubber spatula — I do this in four batches — and pour the batter into the ungreased tube pan. Make about four slashes with a sharp knife to remove any air pockets and bake for 30–35 minutes, until the cake is golden and the top is dry to the touch.
- Invert the cake on the counter or a wire rack and let it cool completely inside the pan. Take a sharp knife and run it around the edge of the pan. Gently remove the cake.
- You can slice it and serve it as is, with heaps of whipped cream and berries, or with an apple or pear compote and whipped cream on the side. Store the angel food cake in an airtight container on the counter for up to 2 days.