Angel food cake is a timeless recipe that is perfect for spring gatherings. It bridges generations of home cooks across Canada, and makes fantastic use of staple ingredients which everyone has on hand.
If you talk to your mom or grandmother, they surely have stories about angel food cake. My mom sure does. Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan meant there were plenty of eggs around. Her mother used the yolks for noodles and the whites were often turned into angel food cake. They had cows as well, so there was no shortage of whipped cream to be served with the cake. Eventually the cake-making duties fell to my mom, and to this day, nobody makes angel food cake quite like she does.
Angel food cake is a delicate dance of meringue, cake and pastry flour and a dry, sunny day. Why a sunny day, you ask? Turns out that meringue is tricky to whip up on cloudy, rainy days so it’s best to avoid making it when the humidity is high. The sugar in the delicate egg-white mixture readily absorbs moisture from the air, which makes it soft and impossible to achieve thick, stiff peaks.
Angel food cake also has other rules, but don’t let that scare you. First off, you need a tube pan with a removable tube. Ungreased, please. The batter needs a dry pan to climb up as it bakes. It’s also best to use cake and pastry flour. Buy a bag and keep it in your freezer if you don’t use it that often.
The egg whites must be at room temperature (they don’t beat as well when cold) and add a pinch of cream of tartar to get great volume. Be sure both bowl and beaters are grease-free, otherwise the whites won’t beat very well. And finally, once the cake is baking, try not to open the oven until the 30-minute mark.
Angel food cake is super versatile. In the spring and summer I like to cover the cake completely in whipped cream, then top with berries and other fresh fruit. But this time around, and in celebration of that harbinger of spring — rhubarb — I’ve made a rhubarb compote to spread between layers of angel food cake.
The sourness of the rhubarb is complemented by the sweetness of the cake, and it really becomes a glorious dessert. Not to mention very pretty. If the cake is for a special occasion, I like to crown it with fresh roses. It’s a simple touch, but one that will definitely touch the recipient’s heart. After all, who doesn’t love cake and roses?
Classic Angel Food Cake
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup cake and pastry flour
1 1/4 cups egg whites (about 10–12), at room temperature
1 tsp. pure almond or vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Sweetened whipped cream, to serve.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the rack in the lower third of the oven.
2. In a medium bowl, add 1/2 cup sugar to the flour and stir very well. Place the egg whites, almond extract and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until the whites are foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat the whites on high speed to medium stiffness. Gradually, with the mixer on medium-low speed, add the remaining 1 cup of sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time. Once all of the sugar has been added, beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, two to three minutes.
3. Gently fold the flour/sugar mixture in by hand, using a rubber spatula — I do this in four batches — and pour the batter into the ungreased tube pan. Bake for 30–35 minutes, until the cake is golden and the top is dry to the touch. Invert the cake on the counter and let it cool completely inside the pan. Take a sharp knife and run it around the edge of the pan. Gently remove the cake.
4. Spread the rhubarb compote between layers of angel food cake and cover completely in whipped cream. I whipped about two cups of cream and two tablespoons of sugar for this. Store the angel food cake in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days. Serves 8-10.
2 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb, chopped
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. rosewater essence or pure vanilla extract
1. Place the rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until jammy and thickened.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater or vanilla. Let cool completely before spreading between layers of cake. Leftover compote can be stored in the fridge for up to one week.
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