Angel food cake for all altitudes

angelfoodcake1

Angel food cake is characterized by its light, airy quality. The batter is a carefully crafted foam scooped into a tube pan, rather than a typical cake batter that can be poured into a normal cake pan. And it takes a lot of care to get it right.

The first time I made angel food cake was about four years ago. I had a lot of leftover egg whites and wanted to find something in which to use them. Two weeks ago, I found myself in a similar situation. I remembered the angel food cake recipe in The Joy of Cooking and pulled out my well-loved copy of the book. It’s such a delicate cake that Joy has a separate recipe for high altitude.

Taking the time to follow the instructions from the beginning until you’re ready to take the first bite will be worth it to get the angel food cake to its proper consistency. I tend to ignore many recipes that require sifting, but it’s entirely necessary to achieve the light quality of this cake. All of the ingredients must be at room temperature as well. Cold egg whites will result in a more dense cake. It’s crucial that you follow instructions to fold ingredients into the mix because stirring will break down the foamy quality of the batter. With the high-altitude recipe, make sure to cut the batter with knife as the recipe instructs, because any larger air bubbles will put your cake at greater risk of collapsing. When cooling the cake, be sure to turn the pan upside-down so it doesn’t settle and become dense. Turning it upside-down helps it keep its spongey quality.

I’ve made the cake three different times using three different extracts — orange, almond and vanilla — but never all at once. I wasn’t a fan of the orange-flavored cake, but the vanilla and almond extract versions were good. Still, I prefer to use the classic combination of vanilla and almond extract.

I’ve made this cake at sea level and at high altitude. Because the recipes are so different, I’ve included both of them below. The first is for high altitude and the second is not. As you can see, the process for each is different. I’ve had success with each version. Additional modifications may be required if you’re at an altitude higher than 10,000 feet. If you’re lower than that, one of these will work.

This is a nice cake to enjoy with tea, cream, berries or just by itself.

Ingredientsangelfoodcake2
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 cups egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond or orange extract
2 tablespoons water
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Sift flour and sugar into a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until foamy. Gradually add sugar and beat on high speed until soft, slightly droopy peaks form. Fold in extracts and water.

Add the dry ingredients one-quarter at a time, sifting them over the whites and gently folding them in, until no flour is visible. Scoop the batter into the tube pan. Cut through the batter once with a knife to burst any large air bubbles. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cake cool completely before frosting or wrapping airtight. If your pan has feet, turn it upside down and let cool for 1 1/2 hours. If it does not have feet, turn it upside-down on an inverted funnel or bottle to let cool. To remove the cake from the pan, slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Using the same procedure, detach the cake from the tube. If the pan has a removable bottom, pull the tube up to lift the cake from the pan sides. Slide the knife under the cake to detach it from the bottom.If the pan does not have a removable bottom, invert the pan and tap it against the counter to loosen the cake. Allow the cake to drop onto a rack or serving platter.

Cut the cake using a special cake comb or use a serrated knife and gently saw it. To avoid compacting the cake, do not apply a lot of pressure in a downward cutting motion.

(Angel food cake at regular altitude)
Ingredients
1 cup sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups egg whites
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour, sugar and salt together three times. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine egg whites, water, lemon juice, cream of tartar, vanilla and almond extract and beat on low speed for one minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture increased 4 1/2 to 5 times in volume and resembles a bowl of soft foam. The foam will hold a very soft, moist shape when the beaters are lifted. On medium-high speed, beat in sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, taking 2 to 3 minutes. When all the sugar has been added, the foam will be creamy white and hold soft, moist, glossy peaks that bend over at the points. Do not beat until stiff. If the mixer bowl is nearly full, transfer the mixture to a wide 4- to 6-quart bowl for easier folding. Sift a fine layer of the flour mixture evenly over the batter and fold gently with a rubber spatula only until the flour is almost incorporated. Do not stir or mix. Repeat seven more times, folding in the last addition until no traces of flour are visible. Pour the batter into the pan and tilt or spread to level the top. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Let cake cool completely before frosting or wrapping airtight. If your pan has feet, turn it upside down and let cool for 1 1/2 hours. If it does not have feet, turn it upside-down on an inverted funnel or bottle to let cool. To remove the cake from the pan, slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Using the same procedure, detach the cake from the tube. If the pan has a removable bottom, pull the tube up to lift the cake from the pan sides. Slide the knife under the cake to detach it from the bottom.If the pan does not have a removable bottom, invert the pan and tap it against the counter to loosen the cake. Allow the cake to drop onto a rack or serving platter.

Cut the cake using a special cake comb or use a serrated knife and gently saw it. To avoid compacting the cake, do not apply a lot of pressure in a downward cutting motion.

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