Making the perfect (tasting) angel food cake

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I had to put perfect “tasting” angel food cake in the title because my frosting skills, especially today, are pitiful. For some reason, I made the frosting slightly too runny and forgot to add the sprinkles before it dried… Which basically means I couldn’t cover up my mistake with pretty little balls since they wouldn’t stick to the sides. 🙂 I can assure you of one thing though- the cake itself is GOOD. How do I know? Because I tasted it while I was leveling things off (shhhh don’t tell). Am I an expert baker or do I have a culinary degree? No. So what makes me believe I’m qualified to give you tips on how to make the perfect angel food cake? For one, my family has eaten it on every birthday for as far as I can remember. Two, I’ve witnessed (and caused) some of the most common mistakes angel food bakers are plagued by. Three, I feel like I’ve found the perfect recipe, assuming you all decide to read my tips and follow the directions precisely. Angel food cake is notoriously finicky and many stay away from it for that reason, but you CAN make a delicious, light, fluffy, spongy masterpiece in your kitchen.

This is the recipe we follow in our home, but before you head over there to get it, you should check out these tips and tricks to make your baking experience more successful:

– Whip those egg whites – the recipe we use calls for 12 eggwhites, and you need to whip them to medium peaks before folding in the flour mixture. Do not rush this step. Whipping those whites takes a really long time, sometimes well over 10-15 minutes, and you need to be patient. If it’s been an eternity and you’re still not getting those peaks, you may have gotten a little bit of egg yolk in your mixture, you may have had a dirty bowl (even a drop of oil in there can completely throw you off), or you may have used gross eggs. Fresh eggs are the easiest to separate.

– Be precise- when it comes to cooking, you can add and subtract things and it’s more of an art. I like to think of baking as a science, and angel food cake takes things to a whole other level. Don’t substitute ingredients, don’t leave any flour in the bottom of your measuring cup, don’t assume a dash of salt is equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon. Measure everything like your life depends on it.

– Don’t slam doors or open the oven- both of these things can cause your cake to collapse and render your efforts and ingredients worthless. Wait until that timer goes off and THEN check on your cake. Distract yourself in the meantime and tell the kids not to run around in the kitchen. Angel food cake is light and fluffy and full of air, making it delicate until it’s fully baked. Just be careful and resist the urge to watch it like a hawk.

– Make sure that cake is done- when you insert your skewer into the cake to check on the doneness and it seems like it could be cooked, err on the side of caution and wait a few minutes more. I typically take mine out of the oven after 40 minutes rather than the recommended 35 minutes. I do this because yes, I’ve witnessed one of our cakes collapse into a big ball of mushy goo on our countertop because it was ever so slightly underdone. On the upside, I ended up with two cakes that birthday, one of which was a delicious chocolate cake from Whole Foods with candles in the shape of a smiley face, thanks to my sweet husband.

– Cool upside down- you absolutely must do this. It’s scary to flip that cake over, but you won’t succeed if you don’t follow this rule. Angel food cake must cool upside down for at least an hour before you attempt to get it out of the pan. We use a wine bottle (preferably full so it’s more stable) to balance the cake, and we do our best to keep the cats away from the counter while we’re doing so. (See exhibit 1 below.)

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So… You’ve succeeded and made the perfect cake. Now what? The cake is delicious without frosting and tastes amazing with fresh strawberries or blueberries on the side. You’re probably better off leaving the cake as-is unless you’re good at frosting things. Today I made mine with a simple white frosting and those tiny colorful nonpareil sprinkle balls because that’s the way I grew up eating this cake. The frosting recipe is as follows: mix together roughly 3 cups of powdered sugar, a dash of vanilla extract, and a touch of milk in a mixing bowl until the correct consistently is reached. I know… After all this “exact science precision measurement” talk I throw that recipe at you. This is how my mom makes frosting, therefore this is how I make frosting. You don’t mess with a good thing, and you don’t mess with tradition. Again, I am fully aware my frosting abilities aren’t up to par with expert bakers. Frosting cakes has never been my strong suit (I know you do a crumb layer and then another layer and bla bla bla), but my method of smearing it on and covering up mistakes with sprinkles and candles is festive and I can assure you- it tastes just the same. So.. What do you think of my husband’s birthday cake? I think he’ll like it. After all, it was made with love (and lots of sugar).

 

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