I can clearly remember being at the local grocery store as a kid and happening across a funny cake, about halfway between the produce section and bakery case. This curious, spongey, and orange-y colored cake was always simply wrapped in a clear plastic bag with a twist-tie. Plus it had a hole in the middle!
It was a rare instance, and with no particular occasion, that this mystery item actually made it into the cart and back to my kitchen. I even have one peculiar memory of this cake being baked at home. I can still picture in my mind that circle pan we never used, balancing upside down on the counter beside the stove. That silver cylinder really seemed to to hang there and cool for a very long time.
Eventually I was allowed a slice, and with the first bite, the delights of Angel Food Cake came back to me, familiar from the last rare tasting. So light and airy in texture, a little tang, with a cherry flavor (known to me now as the essence of almond) and a little sticky on my fingers.
Living in Ireland now, I have not stumbled upon the sweet sponge in any store or bake shop. Was I missing the cake or home? Not sure. But one day, with a lot of eggs on hand, the idea came to me to figure out how to create one myself. As a bonus beyond the nostalgia factor, Angel food cake is a nearly fat free dessert. Before my recent in-home research, that was about all I knew for certain about the dessert that it is low-fat due to the absence of butter and its high egg white content (only 0.01 g total fat per egg white).
First task: what other ingredients do I need? Angel food cake just uses the basics I had already: flour, sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt… and some items found pushed way back in the cupboard… cream of tartar and almond extract. Check out the classic Good Housekeeping recipe found in the Drop Recipes app.
Got it, easy.
Next up, do I really need a circle pan with a hole in the middle? Turns out, yes. The standard version is called a Tube Pan, most often found in a 9″ diameter size. Angel food cake is very light, with only beaten egg whites to form the cake structure and hold up the heaviness of the suspended flour. In a 9″ round pan, without the hole, the center of the cake will always collapse under its own weight. The tube pan’s inner cylinder takes up space and omits the mass of the cake middle. The tube also lets the cake bake from both directions, edges in and middle out, for an even bake throughout, and the inner tube gives more surface area for the cake to cling to, helping to hold it up. This also explains the strange upside-down cooling technique: angel food cake must rest patiently while inverted, because it can still deflate while cooling.
Where then, do I find a tube pan? I was determined to make my own at home. I already have a set of round cake pans, I was just missing the tube. My favorite size round cake pan is the 6-inch. After hunting around the kitchen, a metal spice tin looked like just the right proportion to make a mini tube pan and personal size angel food cake (with maybe a little for sharing).
For this size, you need about four eggs, one-third of the recipe. Just scale the recipe in the Drop Recipes app to four servings for a perfect fit. Do not be afraid to spoon the batter in the pan and fill it right to the top. Make a little adjustment to the total oven time — bake between 20-25 minutes, until the top has a golden-orange color and is springy to the touch of one finger.
It is quite understandable that if you do not own a tube pan, you might not have a 6-inch cake pan at your disposal either. If you go for the standard 9″ round pan, a soup can works perfect as the center tube. For this adaptation, scale the Drop Kitchen recipe to ten servings. This is about three-quarter of the standard recipe. You will need about 9 large eggs, and it will bake for approximately 30 minutes. I had the most success with my removable bottom pans, or a springform pan works great too.
It is no problem to use the plain and simple round pan, but it is a requirement to place a piece of circular foil at the bottom of your pan before spooning in the cake batter. The foil base allows for easy release of the fragile angel food cake from the bottom of the pan, after the cake is thoroughly cooled. I tested it once without the foil bottom and totally squished the delicate dessert trying to “gently loosen” the bottom. (Though I can confirm it is just as tasty squished.)
Bakeware without non-stick coating is always recommended for angel food cake. Remember, it needs the stickiness of the pan edges to help support the cake as it bakes and prevent collapse. If you are really in a pinch, make mini versions — angel food cupcakes. The standard 12-hole cupcake pan, with paper liners, allows for cakes small enough to hold up their centers.
Warning: DIY tube pans do not work with silicon rounds! The silicon does not hold its shape when suspended up-side-down from the soup can center. It was also a struggle to provide an even bake — I chalk it up to the difference in outer silicon and inner metal can temperatures.
Follow these additional tips as you embark on your first perfect angel food cake at home:
- Make sure your bowl and beaters are completely clean and free from any fats/oils.
- Separate your egg whites from yolks one at a time, and do so away from the main mixing bowl. A slip of the hand and one splash of yolk will ruin the whole batch of whites (especially frustrating when you are on egg number 12).
- For the best springy texture, start adding the sugar just when soft peaks are forming. This ensures enough time for the sugar to completely dissolve while stiff peaks are forming.
- It is imperative that the cake be cooled completely while up-side-down.
- Use a knife to gently release the sides of the cake before final removal from your home-made tube pan.
Until my next journey, from Ireland to my hometown, and visit to the neighborhood grocery store, I can get my fingers sticky again with a light dessert any time now. I intend to make Angel Food Cake more often, and I plan to stay tube pan-less too.
I have already been experimenting with a use for all the left-over egg yolks – make your own at home Low-Fat Hollandaise.
Nutritional Information: (6″ pan serves four – 9″ pan serves 8)
Each serving – approximately 155 calories, 4g protein, 34g carbohydrates, 0g total fat (0g saturated fat), 0mg cholesterol, 155 mg sodium.