Thursday, February 11, 2010

Angel Food Cake and Caramel Cream

Angel food cake has always held a special fascination for me. Who knows where I first heard of it, maybe on Happy Days or the Brady Bunch, but the thought of "angel food cake" has been rolling around my head for a long time. Even the name conjurs up an image for me of a perfect fluffy white cake, and maybe an American mother behind it wearing a gingham apron. An overactive imagination indeed, but for the longest time, the image was all I had. There is no angel food packet mix available here. You can't buy angel food cake at bakeries. It isn't served in cafes or restaurants. So all I could do was wonder about its look and its taste.

Then last year, I decided the time had come to make an angel food cake and try it for myself. So I scoured my American cookbooks for recipes, and was surprised at how few offerings there were for angel food cake recipes. I suspect the ubiquitous packet mix probably means that most people don't make angel food cake from scratch. However, Martha Stewart came to my rescue
(thanks Martha!) with a recipe that turned this cake into a long term project. The recipe requires twelve egg whites, and without any plan for disposing of a dozen yolks, I couldn't bring myself to make it. Hence the long term project. Since, egg whites freeze beautifully, I started saving them every time I made a sauce or a dessert or anything else thickened with a yolk. Lots of little ziploc bags marked "1 white" or "3 whites" filled my freezer, until I reached the magic number 12.

Then all my planets aligned. Some American friends were coming for afternoon tea, so it was time to defrost the whites and make them a classic American cake. Next issue: there is such a thing as an angel food tin, which is a deep ring tin with a loose bottom. I do not have one, and have no plans to buy one either. But I do have a little old ring tin. Because it was much shallower than the tin envisaged by the recipe, I had enough left over batter for a loaf cake as well. So I got two angel food cakes for the effort of one. And did it live up to my imagination? I would have to say yes. It was sweet and very light and fluffy - you can tell it is a first cousin of a meringue. I served it with a strawberry sauce with raspberries, and a caramel cream suggested by Martha. Because the cake does not have a strong flavour of its own, I would definitely recommend some sort of flavoured sauce or cream if you are making it. Incidentally, this caramel cream is so good, it actaully deserves a post of its own rather than being bolted on here. I will definitely whip it up again and again to serve with almost anything. The slightly bitter notes of caramel give the cream so much more than just a spoonful of sugar or vanilla. As my younger daughter says "scrumptiousdiddlyumptious".

If you are making an angel food cake, here are a few tips gleaned from around the net:
- DO NOT grease your tin - it will affect how high your cake rises
- when Martha says sift the flour five times, or add sugar 1 tbl at a time, trust her. This cake is all about getting as much air into the batter as possible.
- gentle folding is essential. The recipe creates a suspension of flour in the egg white - heavy handedness will destroy it.
- amazingly the cake cools upside down in the tin, and through some bizarre trick, the cake does not fall out.
- you need to ease the cake out very gently. Run a knife around the edges and then slowly nudge it out.

And don't forget about my Masterchef and Dandi giveaway. You have until the end of Feb to enter.

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
12 egg whites
1 tablespoon warm water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 160 degress, with rack in lower third of the oven. Sift together flour and 3/4 cup sugar. Repeat sifting four times.
Beat egg whites and the warm water with a mixer on low speed until foamy. Add salt, cream or tartar, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Raise speed to high, and beat until peaks are stiff and glossy (but not dry), about 2 minutes more.
Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Sift flour mixture over egg-white mixture in six parts, gently folding in each addition with a rubber spatula. Gently pour batter into a 10-inch tube pan. Run a knife through the batter to release any air bubbles, and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back when touched, 40 to 45 minutes.

Invert pan on a wire rack, and let cake cool about 1 hour. Carefully run a paring knife around side of cake to loosen, then unmold onto the wire rack. Serve with caramel whipped cream, if desired.
Caramel Whipped Cream

Makes about 3 cups
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of coarse salt
2 cups whipping cream
Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Cook sugar, water, and salt in saucepan over medium heat, stirring once, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until sugar turns golden amber. Remove pan from heat; slowly pour cream down sides of pan in a slow, steady stream (it will spatter). Return pan to medium heat, and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.

Transfer caramel cream to a mixing bowl set in ice bath; let sit until very cold, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Mixture can be refrigerated overnight. Before serving, whip the caramel cream until stiff peaks form. Use immediately.


Debinhawaii said...

That is so funny--I never thought about Angel Food Cake mix as being hard to find since it is so common here. My Mom made it frequently, (homemade) especially in the warmer months to have with strawberries. That caramel cream sounds delicious!

Melinda said...

Donna Hay has some recipes for angel food cake, which I can send you if you're interested. I was given an angel food cake tin for Christmas a few years ago but have only used it once or twice. It is a nice cake but does remind me a little of pav.