angel cake.

perfect angel cake.

File this under “posts where Shannon makes something you can easily purchase at the store and subsequently gets underwear-bunchy trying to figure out why you would ever want the store-bought version when the scratch version is so much better.” What; you don’t have a folder for that? You should. Let’s talk about angel cake. Why, as a human race, are we so willing to grab store-bought angel cake when the homemade variety is incredibly delicious? I blame our current relationship with egg whites.

It wasn’t always this way: look in any vintage cookbook, especially the ones from the 50’s and 60’s (the heyday of baking, in my opinion) and you will find page after page of recipes for angel cakes, chiffon cakes, souffles, and tons of other things involving the whipping of egg whites. Bakers all but lived for the moment they were to fold their perfectly peaked egg whites into batter and watch the magic happen. Flash forward to today, and chiffon cakes are all but extinct, everyone is inexplicably terrified of souffle-making, and we have been reduced to grabbing the sticky, flavorless round of angel cake from our nearest grocery store.

Come closer; let me whisper something in your ear.

If you are terrified of whipping egg whites into peaks, or folding them into batter, or live in fear that everything you try to make involving these steps will go from poofy to fallen if you even so much as drop a spoon on the floor near your oven, you have been misled.

perfect angel cake.

Because eggs are a wonderful thing. There’s absolutely nothing scary about them. And cakes with whipped egg whites are heavenly, so long as you simply do your steps correctly. It’s not hard, and I would bet that almost every one of you has all the ingredients needed to make this glorious thing in your kitchen right now.

perfect angel cake.

Keys to a magnificent angel cake:

Room temperature egg whites – because they matter in recipes like this. Am I going to tell you that you need to warm the one egg you’re using in a cookie recipe? No. But angel food cakes rely on volume, and air has an easier time getting into warm egg whites versus cold.

The right equipment – always use a tube pan, ungreased, and preferably with a removable bottom. It’s a great pan to have in your arsenal, and usually quite affordable. Additionally, I believe wholeheartedly that peak-whipping happens best if you do it by hand; not “by hand” like mad rotations of the arm, but rather by using an electric handheld mixer. It could be superstition on my part, but I have much better results using a handheld mixer than I do with my stand mixer.

Knowing your peaks – too often, one man’s “stiff peaks” are another man’s “soft mounds,” which can be confusing. Everyone should have at least one cookbook which shows the various states of egg white; if you don’t, grab your internet and go searching. I describe stiff peaks as peaks where when you pull your beaters upward, the peaks come with and remain standing at attention.

Sifting (even if you don’t want to) – I don’t always like to admit this, because it is very unprofessional of me, but I am not a sifter of flour, or dry ingredients in general. I will, however, do it if I know it benefits the recipe. Lumps happen to dry ingredients, and this is a case where you’re not going to get the opportunity to beat them into submission; sifting will make your product lump-free.

Not rushing the fold – a no-no for anything which requires folding. Folding something in to a batter is always going to be a slow, steady process where each stroke counts. Rushing it will mean more strokes and a bigger chance of deflating your mixture; going slowly and watching the process will keep everything lofty.

Paying attention – which you should do every time you bake something, egg whites or no, unless you have it so incredibly mastered you could actually do it in your sleep. You don’t want to do inadvertent things like, say, rapping the spatula against the bowl to remove the excess, or knocking the bowl around, because all of those things can lessen the poof.

perfect angel cake.

perfect angel cake.

Me talking may or may not convince you to make your angel cakes at home rather than buying them, but tasting it will. I guarantee you will taste the difference, both in texture and in flavor. If you’re concerned about what to do with all those extra yolks, save them: I’ll post a recipe for a grapefruit curd later this week which uses the exact same amount of yolks as you’ll use in whites for this recipe. And it just so happens that they taste perfect together.

perfect angel cake.

Speaking of dependable cookbooks which show examples of peak stages, this recipe is adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010. A fantastic resource for sweet and savory items alike, especially for those of us who like to use solid base recipes to mess with.

Angel Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 12 large egg whites, yolks reserved for another use (like my grapefruit curd)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (to preserve the intense whiteness; feel free to use regular pure vanilla extract, but your cake will be the lightest shade of ivory)
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Make that cake: 

Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle portion of the oven and preheat to 325˚F. Do absolutely nothing to a removable bottom tube pan; no greasing!

In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar with the cake flour and whisk together. Set aside.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar together on medium speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the mixer to medium-high speed and whip the whites until they form very soft peaks, 1-2 minutes. Slowly add the salt, the remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time so it can dissolve evenly into the egg white mixture, until the whites are shiny and form soft-medium peaks, which should take another 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and extracts and whisk for a few seconds more to distribute.

Sift the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, over the egg white mixture and gently fold in using a rubber spatula. Work with each 1/4 cup of flour mixture and fold it in gently and purposefully, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next. Lightness is the key to angel food cake, so make each fold count. Avoid smacking your spatula up against the side of the bowl to clean it off.

Once everything is combined, scrape the batter gently into your tube pan and lightly tap the pan on the countertop a few times to settle the batter. Smooth the top gently using the spatula, but avoid pushing downward on the batter. Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, most likely a little crackly on top, and springy, 45-50 minutes, checking at the 40-minute mark for doneness.

Immediately upon oven removal, invert your cake pan over a sturdy bottle neck. You don’t want to defy the law of gravity? Cool, neither do I: do what I did and position 4 flat-bottomed cereal-like bowls on your cooling rack, then place the tube pan, inverted, on top. Your cake should balance on the four bowls easily. Cool the cake completely in this position, 2-3 hours.

Once cooled, run the thinnest, longest knife you have carefully along the edge of the cake to loosen from the sides; do the same for the inner ring. Position your hands and fingers in such a way that you can ease the bottom up and away from the rest of the pan, until you can invert it safely onto a cake plate. Flip it back right-side up and serve.

Angel cake is just one of those things that you want to eat right away, and you should: it’s best on day 1 or 2, but it will keep well stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Evidently you can make french toast out of the leftover pieces, should you have any. I haven’t tried this but I can only imagine that it would be delightful.

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  • Reply Faygie May 21, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    You’re right. I have just about all the ingredients to make this in the house already, just short on eggs. I’m not even scared of egg whites anymore, since I make meringues and Swiss meringue buttercream all the time.

    My problem? I need to get a darn tube pan. Which I vow to buy SOON.

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      which reminds me, i need to attempt a swiss meringue buttercream because i know i would really like it. I’ve never done it. you just gave me homework! 🙂

      no tube pan!?! run to the store. i suggest a medium metal color (not those super dark/black metal ones; never good). you’ll be happy you did. And if you buy one, i promise i’ll make something else non-angel-cakey in it so you have more than one use for it.

  • Reply Dana Staves May 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Yes! The cake looks amazing! And I’m so happy to hear you preaching the gospel of whipped egg whites. It’s one of my favorite things to do, bringing egg whites to stiff peaks. Feels like a magic trick. 🙂

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      isn’t it just like a magic trick! I feel all proud of myself when i do it, even though it has maybe nothing to do with me, but rather the magic of the egg white. Sometimes i wonder who the first person was that tried separating them from the yolks and subsequently beating them into clouds.

      because i’m a nerd. and i think about things like that.

      • Reply Dana Staves May 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm

        That’s fantastic. I would like to know that person. They have made some of my favorite treats possible.

      • Reply Faygie May 21, 2013 at 4:34 pm

        I was JUST thinking the same thing the other day when I was whipping some cream by hand (as in, with a whisk by hand). Who was the first person to try this, and what would make him/her even think of trying this? But I’m happy he/she did, because whipped cream is pretty awesome stuff. As is meringue.

        I guess I’m a nerd, too.

        • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 5:52 am

          total nerds. in the best way, but really; just super, super nerdy. Or maybe just full of thoughts, i don’t know. 🙂

  • Reply sara May 21, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Love! What a perfect angel food cake! 🙂

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      thank you so much, sara! so perfect i’ve made it twice since these photos were taken. (it’s delicious, and also addicting)

  • Reply Elizabeth @ Eating Local in the Lou May 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I am POSITIVE this cake tastes better than store bought. Just wish I had an “angel” to bake it for me!

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Thanks, Elizabeth! And certainly we have so many grocery stores around here who make a perfectly decent cake, but you just can’t beat a from-scratch one of these, for sure. I bet you could be your own angel on this one. 🙂

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats May 21, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    You know, when we cleaned out my grandma’s house there was an angel food cake pan. I didn’t know what it was and had to ask my mom. Have you seen them? They have little legs on the top (bottom when you flip it) so you don’t have to suspend the pan over a bottle. Being the sentimental hoarder I am, I of course took the pan and have it in my collection…but have yet to use it. I suppose now is the time since I know that this recipe MUST be good if you say it’s good 🙂 Now I just have to remember to take some eggs out ahead of time…

    • Reply shannon May 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      oooo, the legs ones are the best ones to have! mine doesn’t have the little legs, but my mom’s does…you don’t always see them made like that anymore. Long live sentimental hoarding, especially of kitchenware (says the girl who rescues vintage pyrex from thrift stores).

      if you forget to take the eggs out ahead of time. fill an 8×8 cake pan with warm water and stick the whole eggs in there for a few minutes: it won’t cook them as long as the water isn’t scorching hot. Lift them out after maybe 5 minutes to see if they feel room temp or still chilled, and keep them in for a few minutes longer if they feel at all cold. Works really well to expedite the process.

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina May 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    See, here’s the thing…this whole post is like my philosophy for cooking in general. In fact, it’s why I love the kitchen (and this post, AND especially YOU) so much. Because doing it yourself, is like…magic.

    Basically, you’re magic. So, there.

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 5:48 am

      *happy tears* 🙂

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook May 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    This looks gorgeous! Makes me want to give it a try. I also heard of a recipe for Angel Cake french toast. Maybe if it isn’t devoured that would be a good thing, too. Yes, definitely want to try this!

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 5:51 am

      Thanks, Abbe! someday i’m trying the angel french toast also: i mean, i’ll have to make another cake for that *ahem* but it’s going to happen at some point. 🙂

  • Reply Sue/the view from great island May 21, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I’m seriously impressed, that cake is perfection!

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 5:53 am

      thank you, Sue! sometimes it’s the simplest things, right? like chocolate chip cookies or a good meringue.

  • Reply Emma May 21, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Angel food cake is one of my dad’s favorite things, or at least that’s what my mum has led me to believe over the years:) Perhaps I should ship him one for father’s day – – I wonder if it would go bad. Another of his favorite things is worrying about food going bad, so maybe that’s actually a bad idea. I’ll mull it over.

    You hit it on the nail when you mentioned the excess of egg yolks. That’s my excuse not to make more of this type of dessert;) Can’t say I’ve ever bought a store bought one either though!

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 5:57 am

      well, don’t freak your dad out by shipping food, but i’ll say that the success of angel cake shipments probably depend largely on the temperature at which it is kept: it seems to do well at room temp for several days, or even a little cooler, but too cold (fridge) or too warm (heat of summer) could do it in by either making it too dry or too sticky, respectively. But i’d be interested to try it, if only to see how it does; you know those angel cakes at the store aren’t fresh every day, so they have to last for a decent amount of time.

      curds! some homemade crackers! other things i can’t think of right now! there’s surely something you could use those egg yolks for.

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats May 21, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    you have held my hand through so many recipes, and i’ve always managed to make it through successfully. now, my only issue is that the one time i broke down to buy an angel food cake pan, the store didn’t have any. and also i would have to hide it for a few weeks and then pull it out as though i’ve always owned one and aaron just never saw it before lol

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 5:59 am

      this happened to me with my (still not owned) popover pan: i saw it EVERY TIME i went to SLT and then when i go back to get it? the one i want isn’t there, and there was another one, but i didn’t like it as much. I still need to i guess time it correctly so the pan i have is there.
      i do that ALL the time with Mr. Table: he’s all “what’s this?” and i’m all “oh i just haven’t used it in forever/yet/it’s been a long time/whatever nothing” about it. it totally works.

  • Reply movita beaucoup May 22, 2013 at 4:35 am

    The STRESS of making angel food cake at baking school. Cripes! It was all about sifting and folding quickly. It is hard to sift quickly when your hands are shaking and everyone around you is freaking out. And how does one fold GENTLY at the speed of light? HOW? And how do you time it so four people get their eggs peaked and flour folded in at the exact same time? So your cakes can go into the convection oven at the exact same moment?

    That said, I requested (and received) an angel cake pan for Christmas, as the homemade version is so much better than anything store bought. Plus, you get to use your fingers to eat the remains on the sides of the pans – the best part of all! I’m going to try this recipe out ASAP…

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 6:02 am

      I feel like being in baking school and trying to make an angel cake would place an inordinate amount of stress on the project; especially if you had to move quickly, which i never like to do when folding something, as my tendency is to smash something into submission. I bet you completely rock at making angel cakes now.

      i didn’t mention the post-cake pan leftovers! that is actually the best part, because it’s like getting to try the cake without actually cutting into it (so no one knows you tried it).

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog May 22, 2013 at 6:18 am

    You write the BEST instructions. I know if I make one of your recipes, it’s going to turn out just right. You instill a sense of confidence in a gal. I love it, and I thank you for it. This angel cake looks fluffy and light.

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 6:03 am

      aw, thanks Jennie! I try and make things easy, or at least not so stuffy like some recipes can be. It gets tiring trying to figure out sometimes how exactly to do some things, and i like to not be like that in my own recipe-explaining. you are welcome, and thank you for saying that; it makes me happy.

  • Reply Ashley May 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

    My mouth is watering…it just look so divine! (ha, see what I did there with that pun? oh man, it’s terrible!) I have to agree with you completely that whipped egg whites can work incredible magic and that many (most?) people are irrationally terrified on them. Seriously, when did that start and how can we all change it? With homemade angel cake (and souffles, I love those too)!

    I must admit one store bought angel food cake has stolen my heart (so moist! so flavorful! with the tiniest hint of chew!), though it’s a small company and I’ve only seen it at one local grocery store. So it’s probably homemade and generously sold to us, which is awesome when you’re feeling lazy.

    Also, I’ve got a crazy amount of egg whites to use every time I make ice cream or gelato…so I know what I’ll be doing with my next batch! I can’t wait for the grapefruit curd!

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 6:09 am

      (snort laugh) 🙂 sometimes i blame cake mixes: i love them, but when they came out in stores, they were like, the best thing since sliced bread for home cooks. I get that, but you know how it is when you fall out of practice with doing something; it’s like you forget, and then it’s harder, so you don’t do it. Poof: a whole community of egg white-phobes.

      hey: if there’s a local purveyor who makes a great one, go for it! Probably that’s the closest thing to homemade (or indeed, it could be very homemade if it’s small-batch), and there’s no shame in finding a good one.

      which reminds me: i need to post the grapefruit curd! I’ve been spending this week catching up on things/being distracted by other things, but it’s time to post that one. SO easy.

  • Reply Monica May 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    I have to tell you…I don’t like angel food cake : ( BUT I think you might have convinced me to give it another try. I bought a pan just to make/try it at home a couple years ago but I’m glad I got the pan because I often make ATK’s chiffon cake in it (I think I miss the yolks in angel food cake – I love eggs). My tube pan has no legs either and seeing it propped on a bottle always makes me a little nervous. Great tips on whipping egg whites…I’m usually comfortable with it unless a recipe requires whipping whites without sugar! Then, I’m nervous.

    • Reply shannon May 24, 2013 at 6:12 am

      Monica, i know you love your eggs. 🙂 and chiffon cake is great simply because it’s so much like angel cake, but with the yolks included, which makes for a nice balance (and that pretty pale yellow color!). I can’t do the bottle thing: so much can go wrong there, and i have a two year old who likes to run around the house, which means i would live in a near-constant state of fear that her footfalls would topple it.

  • Reply Wendy May 27, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    In general, I am not a cake eater or a cake baker. Except for birthday cakes. Since I was a teenager, I have baked and decorated my own birthday cake and cakes for friends and family. My own cake, as a teenager, was always angel food cake. Now here is the odd part. I was totally naive about baking. I didn’t know I was supposed to be scared of egg whites, peaks, or cakes containing them. So I just did it. I have no memory of any problems making angel food. I just followed the directions like I would for any other recipe. Then I would eat the luscious angel food cake plain or maybe with some whipped cream and strawberries. Heaven. Sometimes, knowledge is a dangerous thing, or at least an intimidating thing.
    I haven’t had angel food cake in years and this post reminded me how much I love it. Luckily, I don’t have a birthday for 5 more months but I think I will make this anyway! 🙂 Your directions, as always, are so clear and helpful, Shannnon. Now, I need to staple this recipe to your curd recipe and I am set. 🙂

    • Reply shannon May 29, 2013 at 5:47 am

      in my opinion, being completely to naive to baking fears is the best way to be! no hangups to deal with, because once you label something as “scary” or “difficult” in your brain, it’s hard to shake it. Knowledge really CAN be a dangerous thing, especially in the form of old wives’ tales.
      you should make yourself an angel food cake for sure! Especially since it was your favorite cake; i say go for it. It always makes me feel good when i hear people like my directions: i think i ramble, but if people are helped by it, then i’ll continue to ramble. 😉

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