What makes angel food cake so appealing to a cake love who's watching dietary fat intake is that it contains no butter, oil or egg yolks. The secret ingredient is egg whites. At only 16 calories, an egg white has zero fat but more than half the total protein of a whole egg. Still, for a cake to qualify as angel food, the whites must be properly beaten and the other ingredients carefully folded into them.
The process involves first beating the whites to the foamy stage, when white "suds" start to form. At this point, salt and cream of tartar (a stabilizing ingredient) can be added, if called for. The whites are then beaten to the soft-peak stage: The foam becomes thicker, whiter and finer, and forms droopy, moist peaks. At this point, sugar and flour are carefully folded in.
Angel food cake isn't difficult to make, but the beating and folding do demand a quick, gentle hand with a whisk and spatula, and the cook's full attention. The reward is a clear conscience and a tall, white cake of ethereally light texture.
* Eggs separate most easily when they're cold but should warm to room temperature before they're beaten.
* Use an egg separator, an inexpensive kitchen gadget available at supermarkets or kitchenware stores, to separate whites and yolks. Work carefully: Even a speck of yolk in the whites will interfere with proper beating. Never use eggshells, which may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, for separating eggs.
* Egg whites reach their greatest volume when beaten in copper or stainless-steel bowl with a balloon whisk or whip attachment of an electric mixer. Bowl and whisk must be grease-free.
Can't use 14 yolks right away? Then cover them with water and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator; use within 2 or 3 days. Or, for each cup of yolks, stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt (for use in savory dishes) or 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (for use in sweet dishes); place in several storage containers, label and freeze for up to a month.
Angel Food Cake
Serves 10 to 12
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
14 egg whites (from large eggs)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Sift flour again into dry mixing bowl. Sift sugar into a separate bowl and set both aside.
In a clean copper or stainless-steel bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks; add salt when whites are just foamy (if using stainless-steel bowl, also add cream of tartar at this point; none is needed with a copper bowl). Gently fold in sugar with a rubber spatula; fold in flour in 2 batches. Do not overmix.
Add vanilla and almond extracts and lemon juice. When all ingredients are incorporated, pour batter into an ungreased, 10-inch tube pan and smooth the top.
Bake until cake is a pale and creamy brown color, top springs back when gently pressed with finger, and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean (about 1 hour). Cool upside down, inverting pan over the neck of a tall bottle.
To serve, gently remove from pan, releasing sides with a knife. When cool, cut cake with a serrated knife or break into pieces with two forks to avoid compressing cake. Serve with chocolate sauce or crushed fruit.
Pub Date: 5/31/98