Monday, January 12, 2009

Angel Food Cake

My brother told me my mom wanted Angel Food cake for her birthday. I'd never made one, but I'm pretty good with folding meringues, so I thought I could give it a shot. I ended up giving it 8 shots.
I looked at several recipes and was amazed by how little flour was actually used: 3/4 cup cake flour to 12 whites and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Surely the soft wheat flour wasn't providing that much structure, so why not try alternatives? I made 7 half-recipes before selecting my final blend.***
The variations were:
cake flour -- as a baseline
whole wheat pastry flour
oat flour
buckwheat flour
cocoa powder
whole-wheat pastry flour plus gluten
rice flour

As you can see in the pictures, most of them fell... but I'm unwilling to blame the flours. I kept taking them out of the pans before they were completely cool because I couldn't start the next round until I emptied the pans [who knew 2 tube pans wouldn't be enough?].
My favorite, flavor-wise, was the buckwheat. It had great tang. Other tasters preferred the honey notes of the oat flour, but the texture on that one was crumbly. The 100% cocoa powder turned into the best fat-free brownie ever. [more experiments are in order there.]
The rice flour version looked identical to the cake flour one, i.e. just like you'd buy at the grocery store, but the texture was a little rice-floury. I don't think white rice flour is particularly more healthful than cake flour, but it is gluten-free... I didn't have any brown rice flour on hand. The whole-wheat pastry was pretty neutral, but the crumb wasn't quite as spongy as it should be and I wanted to make a cake that wasn't obviously different. I mean, my family knows about my recipe tinkering, but I didn't want it to become "that health-food angel-food cake Maria made that time" in family lore.
Recipe: Angel Food Cake
The final verdict was to keep at least 1/4 cup cake flour. If I have occasion to make another, I think I'll do equal parts wwp/cake/buckwheat, because I think it'd be awesome with strawberries... although the oat flour did make for a pretty great angel food/shortcake hybrid.

12 egg whites, room temp
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar [divided use]
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 tbs vital wheat gluten

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla^^
1/2 tsp almond^^

Preheat oven to 350F. Use an ungreased tube pan and trace the outside of it onto parchment paper, cut out, fold in quarters, and cut the tip back to the radius of the center tube. Drop it inside the pan, trimming as necessary.

Whisk egg whites on low until foamy ~3 minutes or so. While this is going, sift together flours, gluten, and remaining 1/2 c sugar. Add tartar and salt to the whites and bump up the speed a notch. Once incorporated, slowly, slowly pour in 3/4 cup sugar and whisk until dissolved. Switch to highest speed and whip until soft peaks form. [The tip should make a "Dairy Queen" curl instead of sticking straight up. If you accidentally take it to firm peaks, it's okay, the cake just won't rise as much.] Add lemon and extracts and whip until whites return to soft peaks. Sift 1/3 flour mix over whites and gently fold. Repeat two more times. Spoon into ungreased tube pan and shake a little to distribute evenly. Bake 1 hour or until the top springs when pressed, i.e. you can press the top without the crust breaking under your fingers. Carefully remove from oven, invert and suspend over a wine bottle or place on a cooling rack over an oven burner (w.o. pilot) until completely cool ~2-3 hours. Seriously. Don't cut it out at 1.5 hours. It made my heart hurt when it deflated -- every time because I refused to learn my lesson.

Once completely cool, flip upright and run a serrated knife around the edge and center cone. Flip back onto a cooling rack or serving plate. Peel off parchment and serve with your choice of toppings.

^^ I wanted to keep everything the same except the flours, so I didn't play with this. The acid in the lemon juice helps set the whites, but the extract combination tastes exactly like you'd expect angel food cake to taste. By the second batch I really wanted to replace the almond with herbsaint or chartreuse. I think it'd be great to sub rum or brandy for the entire amount and use it for an English Trifle in place of pound cake... or reduce the vanilla and add 1/2 tsp orange blossom water and top the cake with grilled pineapple. Ooh, yeah. Let's do that next.
***You may ask, "Where does one get enough egg whites to make 4.5 full angel food cakes without having 54 yolks to spare? " In this case it pays to know pastry chefs, especially ones that make custards and ice creams. They use lots of yolks and often store away their whites without any specific purpose, just because they hate to waste them... although they often don't use them and they go bad and have to be thrown out anyway. I made sure the leftovers from all the New Year's pastries didn't go to waste.

No comments:

Post a Comment