Angel Food Cake is an American classic. Light and airy, it is butterless and tastes somewhere between a meringue and a cake. The Southern classic is flavoured with vanilla and almond. A perfect heavenly delight on a summery day!
What is Angel Food Cake?
Angel Food Cake is quite simply a meringue based cake, leavened with stiff whipped egg whites. It is traditionally flavoured with vanilla and a bit of almond extract, though different flavours are certainly possible.
In its classic form, it is not frosted as the crisp dry top is part of the desired effect. You can find Angel Food Cake served with cream or berries alongside.
Its heavenly light white disposition gives it the name Angel Food in contrast to the deep chocolate Devil's Food, which is a related meringue based recipe.
My recipe below is loosely based on a version from Taste of Home, with some tips and tweaks.
Key Steps to Make Perfect Angel Food Cake
1. Double Sift Flour
The key to an Angel Food Cake is an incredibly light sponge! In order to ensure that you achieve this, you need to sift your flour, not once but twice.
Honestly, I have a history of avoiding sifting my ingredients. It stems from a long tradition of not wanting to wash extra plates or equipment. A few dense cakes has taught me the valuable lesson that sifting is important - in some cakes more than others. Sifting helps to lighten the flour and evenly distributes your dry ingredients. The result is a more evenly risen lighter cake overall. This is very important to the Angel Food Cake
2. Tips for Separating Eggs
Angel Food Cake relies on the egg white meringue. I cannot stress enough: do yourself the favour and take your time in separating the eggs.
The best process to follow is:
- Prepare three bowls: your mixing bowl, a storage bowl large enough to hold the yolks and a small cup or bowl (enough to hold one egg white at a time).
- Use the small cup to divide out the egg white for each egg individually.
- Once you have the egg white, add the yolk to your storage bowl and then tip the egg white from the small cup into the large mixing bowl.
- Do this for each egg individually to ensure no yolk gets into the mixing bowl.
This process will save you time and worry, giving you more control. If one of your egg yolks breaks while you are separating, you will only contaminate one egg white as opposed to the whole mixing bowl.
3. Whisk Egg Whites to Stiff Peaks
The single most important part of this cake recipe (if we rank all elements) is whisking a stiff peaked meringue.
You can find egg white meringues in many classic southern recipes, including the traditional Devil's Food Cake. It is a great way to add extra air to a cake, for a lighter sponge.
Some things to look out for in making the meringue:
- Your mixture will go through a foamy phase, but keep mixing, these are not soft peaks!
- Once you have gone through the initial foamy stage, your mixture will start to reach soft peaks. It will resemble a whipped cream. It will be white, less obviously bubbly and will lightly hold its shape even with the whisk removed.
- Do not add any sugar until you have reached the soft peak stage.
- Add your sugar slowly, but steadily. I do this by scooping in a tablespoon at a time, while the whisk is still on a medium setting.
- Once all sugar is incorporated whisk on high until thickened and glossy. It is more difficult to over-whisk a meringue than to under-whisk, so don't be afraid to let it keep going longer than you may think.
- The test of stiff peaks is to be able to hold the bowl of meringue upside down and this to stay put.
4. Gently Fold in the Dry Ingredients
Once you've made your meringue, you need to incorporate the dry flour mixture. To do this, add it in a couple of additions, gently folding after each. The main thing here is to avoid knocking out too much air! After going through all the trouble of making the meringue, you don't want to remove all of that lightness. But, you also want to ensure that the mixture is fully incorporated, so you don't want to see any obvious pockets of flour.
5. Use a Knife to Remove Excess Air Pockets
Once the batter has been gently added to the pan, use a knife to remove excess air bubbles. Insert this into the batter and lightly cut through in a swirling pattern. This will help ensure the batter is spread evenly while also knocking out air pockets.
You'll use a knife again at the end to help cut remove the cake from the pan.
6. Leave to Cool Inverted
Leaving the cake to cool inverted allows gravity to help maintaining the rise and lightness of the meringue. The cake will start to fall out of the pan a bit, pulling down on the loose base. This means that the cake does not collapse in on itself, which would happen if left to cool in the tin not inverted.
Best Pan for Angel Food Cake
It is not any surprise that the best pan for an Angel Food Cake is an Angel Food Cake pan! The Angel Food Cake Pan has a few features that are significant to the process of creating the perfect light meringue cake.
1. A loose base
Unlike a spring form pan, a loose based pan doesn't involve a latch on the side in order to remove the bottom insert. For an Angel Food Cake, it is useful to have the loose base. Part of the traditional cooling process is to invert the cake and allow this to slowly begin to fall out of the tin. Once cooled, when removing from the tin, the loose base allows you to remove the cake sides first and then to detach carefully from the bottom using a standard kitchen knife.
2. Feet on the top lip of the pan
These allow for cooling the cake inverted. Without the feet, if you were to flip the warm cake upside down to cool, you would trap heat and moisture. This could ruin the work of the meringue, making the cake more dense and damaging the crispness of the dried top.
You could cool a traditional pan upside down on a wire rack, to enable the gap and the air to circulate.
3. Centre hole
The centre hole, like a donut hole or a bundt cake pan, is significant to providing an even bake for the batter. Again, this contributes to the lightness of the cake. Without the hole, the cake would take longer to bake, in order for the heat to reach the middle.
You could use other pans, but the result may be a more dense bake with more risk of burning the top.
4. Non-greased Pan
This may seem a bit counter intuitive, but your Angel Food Cake pan shouldn't be non-stick. It also should not be greased!
- You do not want to grease the pan because grease and meringue do not mix - this recipe is a butterless cake, leavened entirely by egg whites. The cake needs to be able to cling to the sides of the pan in order to raise. Greasing the pan would add grease to the cake, reduce the ability of the cake to cling to the sides and impact the rising of the meringue overall.
- You also do not want to use a non-stick pan as you would not be able to then use a knife to help release the cake once it is cool.
Ideas for Using Up Extra Yolks
This recipe calls for 9 egg whites, if you're looking for ways to use up the yolks, you may like:
- Vanilla Pastry Cream
- Freeze the egg yolks for later.
If you liked this recipe, you may also like:
Angel Food Cake
- Electric whisk
- Angel food cake pan
- 9 egg whites, room temperature
- 1½ cups sugar
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch (or cornflour)
- 1¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175C/155C Fan).
- Sift together flour, ½ cup of sugar and cornflour. Sift this mixture twice and set aside.
- Add the egg whites to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a large bowl for use with electric hand whisk. Add the cream of tartar, salt and extracts. Begin beating on medium, increasing to medium-high until soft peaks form.
- Begin adding the remaining 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the beating egg whites. Once all is added, increase the mixing to high and continue until stiff peaks form.
- Add the flour mixture to the egg white meringue in two or three additions, gently folding to incorporate.
- Pour the mixture into an ungreased Angel Food Cake pan. Swirl a knife through this to remove excess air bubbles and bake in the lower half of the oven for 40 minutes until the top is lightly browned and appears dry.
- Remove the pan from the oven and invert this so that it is left upside down in the pan to cool. As it cools, the cake will start to fall out of the pan, so you may want to place a sheet of baking paper under this.
- After 1 hour of cooling, use a butter knife to loosen the cake from the pan. Run this along the edges, remove the outer ring and then also run this around the base. Carefully remove the cake and transfer to a serving plate.