Devil in disguise
One baker's tortuous odyssey to mastering angel food cake
A finished dish of the Charlotte J. Crocker Angel No-Fool cake. (Bill Hogan/ Chicago Tribune / June 16, 2011)
5. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and crusty, and top springs back when lightly touched, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove cake from oven; turn pan upside down. Let stand until completely cool, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. To remove cake from pan, carefully loosen all pan edges including the tube's with a butter knife. Invert onto your serving platter. To frost and fill, halve cake horizontally with a serrated knife, using a gentle sawing motion. Fill center and frost cake with whipped cream frosting.
Per serving (with frosting): 324 calories, 36% of calories from fat, 13 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 46 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 138 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Fortified whipped cream frosting
Before starting frosting, put the beaters and mixer bowl in the freezer to chill.
Put 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water in ramekin; sprinkle on 3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin. Let stand 5 minutes. Place ramekin in skillet filled with 1/2 inch water; heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is clear and dissolved. Let cool, about 5 minutes.
Place 1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer; beat on medium speed until cream begins to thicken. Add gelatin mixture, 3 tablespoons sifted confectioners' sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Continue beating until soft mounds fall. Remove bowl from mixer; finish whipping by hand with a balloon whisk until cream thickens a bit more and holds its shape. Adapted from "Great Cakes," by Carole Walter.
A pro backs us up
We asked pastry chef Joanne Chang, author of "Flour: Spectacular Recipes From Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe" (Chronicle, $35), for some angelic tips. We are proud to say that everything she recommended is backed up by the recipe and our hard-earned lessons:
• Sifting the flour is critical, she says, "to be sure it's as aerated as possible to keep the final crumb light."
• Why you don't overbeat the whites: "You want them at soft peak so that when the batter goes into the oven the whites still have some stretch in them. This allows the whites to grow and leaven the cake."
• Why sugar gets added in two different places: "Whipping too much sugar into the whites will give you a tough cake," she says. "Leaving some to fold into the cake will ensure the cake is moist."
• Chang recommends leaving the cake upside down until you serve it "to keep the crumb airy."
• The serrated knife and sawing motion are key because they won't compress the cake.
That odd measure tells me somebody tested this recipe a lot. Always a good sign.
Maybe the most important part of the list. Separate eggs one at a time — a speck of yolk or shell will prevent whites from properly whipping. With this method, you won't contaminate your eggs. You'll need two small bowls and one large bowl. Crack 1 egg; let the white drip into one small bowl. Set yolk aside in the other small bowl for future use. Transfer pristine egg white into the large bowl; repeat 11 times.
Be sure the expiration date has not passed. This ingredient helps stabilize the whites.
Do not beat until stiff, no matter what any recipe says!
Do not overbeat! You still don't want stiff peaks! Stiff whites will break your batter and cause the cake to sink.
This bucks recipes that say you must whisk in flour by hand. Incorporating on low produces a better batter. But if you're nervous, go ahead and whisk by hand — gently!
You can find cheap tube pans at thrift shops, donated by disgusted bakers who didn't have Charlotte J.'s recipe.
This breaks up any air bubbles in the batter. One time around is sufficient. And don't bang the pan on the counter! It's a cake, not a slab of meat.
Do not ever "turn cake around halfway through baking," no matter how trusted the source. Leave it alone, opening the door only when checking for doneness near end of baking.
A lot of recipes tell you to place the middle tube onto a bottle, neglecting to mention that a bottle that narrow has not existed since 1942. Many tube pans come with little tabs that accommodate this necessary step. Otherwise, place pan upside down on a few ramekins — anything stable that puts air between the pan top and the counter. And don't worry, it won't fall out. It's glued in there.
Whipped cream frosting is the easiest to spread on this tender crumb and complements beautifully. Berries are nice too.